Medical Mondays: "But you don't look sick!"

Of the millions of people suffering from chronic illness in our country, 96% of them have what is called “invisible illness,” meaning their sickness does not show on the outside. 

Being one of those millions, I often hear the phrase, “But you don’t look sick!” I think people mean it as a compliment. Seems we sick people are supposed to look like half-drowned rats someone found in the cellar or something, and people are surprised when we look fine on the outside. 

My trying-to-not-look-sick look, but I can tell I'm on extra steroids from the swollen eyes and "poofy" face of Addison's.

And the irony is, most of us try very hard to look fine. Why? I’m not sure. We don’t want people to think we’re trying to milk our illness, or we don’t want people to think we’re angry with God.

On my Facebook page, Sick&Tired, we’ve been discussing this “But you don’t look sick!” phenomenon, and what “looking sick” actually looks like. It’s been fun. I decided it’s what I look like first thing in the morning. =)

Yesterday I got the opportunity to do an experiment. I was tired and, to be honest, did not want to go to church that evening because of all the effort it would take—effort I realized was mostly in the attempt to not “look sick.” Makeup. Hair fixed. Etc.

Something you need to know—I live in the South, and southern women tend to feel the need to be “fixed up” before going out of the house. If you’re diehard Southern, you even make sure your purse, shoes, jacket and accessories all go with your outfit. 

I’m not, but not wearing makeup to church was something I forced myself to do last night. I decided that I wasn’t going to miss church just because of that. 

So I went, looking sick (in my opinion). It was hard for me to do, because I make a great effort to not look as tired or sick as I feel.

The experiment was rather anti-climatic. Nobody said, “Oh my, you look sick,” or even, “Poor thing, you look so tired.” I even admitted I was tired when people asked how I was (this was also hard for me to do).
Granted, nobody said I didn’t look sick either =), but it’s not like anyone avoided me or wasn’t nice to me because I looked as tired as I felt.

In the end, I really enjoyed the sermon’s reminder that my life is about God not about me. And my experiment proved to me something else: Church is not about me proving I’m not sick. Or even proving I am sick.

It’s not supposed to be about me at all. It’s supposed to be about Christ.


If you have a chronic illness like me, and you suffer from the fear of “looking sick” and all the imagined ramifications or failings that will result, here’s my suggestion for you today:

Stop pretending and be real. It is not whining, complaining, or blaming God to admit that you have a condition and may not be feeling your best right now. And if you’re avoiding people just because you aren’t able to pretend as well today, not only are you missing out on the opportunity to be ministered to, but others are missing the opportunity to encourage or help you (something that feels good to do and is rewarded by God).

One last thing—even if you feel like a half-drowned rat, you probably don’t look that bad!

And even if you do, from one half drowned-rat to another, you can live in peace today, knowing that it’s not a sin to have a chronic condition and it’s not a sin to “look sick.”


  1. Amen! There are days that I actually have worn capri's and a knit top because our little church isn't air conditioned and it was all I could do to just move that morning.

    And there was no thunder or lighting, the front door of the church didn't slam shut when I tried to come through without a dress, hose, purse and shoes to match...and I live in the north where that is becoming so old fashioned to be "dressed" for church. So sad, actually.

    So - here's for being real and getting to God's house in whatever state you can to worship and dwell within the house of Lord!

    Love you, girl!

  2. I have heel spurs and attend church in my padded slippers!

  3. Good for you both! Guess you learned this lesson before I did. =) I'm loving the padded slippers idea--I'm forever wearing my out to the car before I realize I forgot to put my shoes on anyway!

  4. Great point,Kim

  5. Kim,
    I totally get you on this one. So many days it feels like so much work to try to get "presentable". Having chronic migraines, the thought of doing my hair and make-up is more than I can fathom some days. What I have found though is those who really know me, and even some who just have that amazing gift can look at me and no matter how much effort I've put in they can see the pain I'm trying to hide. It took a long time for me to be able to accept the truth of what you are saying. I am constantly reminded of the scripture in 2 Cor. 2:9, 10
    "But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."...For when I am weak, then I am strong." If God's power is made perfect in weakness then make me weak! But some days it is harder to surrender than others....but I suppose that's part of the weakness. :-) Jen Riesen

  6. Amen! And it is so true. I am learning God can do more through my weakness, than I ever could have done when I was "strong."

  7. I'm glad migraines count as an "invisible illness" as well...I suffer from them also and it's really hard to explain to people that, although I may have said I would help with ministry or do that thing for you, I must put a condition on it; whether I'm up to it on the day in question.

  8. Yes, I find myself not wanting to commit to anything because my body is not trustworthy. I have had to back out of regular ministries that require dependability, but sometimes you meet people who understand and are flexible and that's such a blessing. And then God always works around who we are, because He's the one who knows our limitations best!


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