Insult or Compliment?


When someone says “You don’t look sick“, do you take it as an insult or a compliment?  Personally I take it as an insult and here is why.

You don’t look sick” is an accusation, not a compliment.  Those words accuse the person in pain of being a liar.  If people who haven’t a clue about what it is like to live with constant pain only knew of our frustration when it comes to being diagnosed and getting proper treatment, they would choose their words more carefully.  Most people who suffer from chronic pain suffer needlessly for years before getting a proper diagnosis because too many doctors believe their patients are just seeking pain pills.  Then once we do get diagnosed, our current health system in the United States makes us beg and plead for pain relief.  Contrary to what others believe, we don’t wish or want to have to medicate because of pain.  The reality is that we often worry about addiction and what others think.  This is why many of hold off on medicating until our pain level has spiraled out of control rather than to stay ahead of it.  Continually having to prove our pain to our physicians is exhausting and emotionally draining, this is why we become so frustrated when a friend or family member expects the same from us.
What I am really hearing is that you don’t believe me.  Sadly, I am right to think this as many do not understand how someone could be living with such horrible pain without some physical sign.  The words “You don’t look sick” automatically put me into a defensive mode.  Those words make me feel like I need to explain my conditions and justify how I survive.  Thankfully, over time I have been able to overcome my need to explain and justify, however I still get a twinge of anger every time I hear those words.
Why does someone need to look as bad as they feel?  This ties in with #2, because it is commonly told to those of us who suffer from chronic pain.  I can’t imagine that any of the people who told me that I didn’t look sick would tell a person who was dying from cancer that they didn’t look like they were dying!!!  No, they would remind the person that they were beautiful without insulting them.
Do you really want to see me looking as bad as I feel?  Seriously, I hate to see anyone hurt or in pain, especially when their pain is so bad that I can see how much they are hurting with my own eyes.  Instead of judging someone for how they look when they are in pain, think about this.  If someone says they are in pain, yet physically look just like the average person out of the house, give them a high five!! Why?  Because they and you should be celebrating that they had at the very least a moment of strength to brush their hair and get dressed which allows them to feel as normal as possible while out of the house even though their body feels like a train wreck.  Instead of saying “You don’t look sick“, I would rather people say “You look fabulous for someone who is in so much pain!”  This may be the intent of some who say “You don’t look sick”, but it is rarely how the chronically ill perceive it.  So if you are one of the few that felt you were complimenting someone in pain, rethink your words and find a better way to express them.
I would like to say that there are times that I perceive those words as a compliment, but that would be a lie.  I will say that while living a life that is anything but normal, hearing that I look normal is nice.  I may not be able to control how I physically feel from one moment to the next, but when I have the energy to do anything that resembles a normal existence I go for it.  Truth is I almost have to laugh when someone tells me that I don’t look sick.  If those same people ever saw me during a flare, I’d scare them half to death.  If someone wants to really see what it looks like to be chronically ill they need to drop by when their friend or loved one is in the middle of a flare.  To judge us on our “good” days is not fair.
“Good” day/ Bad day. Guess what? I was in pain in both pictures!! There is no such thing as a pain-free day when you live with chronic pain, just different levels of pain that change without notice.
What are your thoughts?  How does hearing “You don’t look sick” cause you to react?  What is your favorite way to respond?  For too many years I felt I needed to justify and defend myself.  Then I became angry and started replying that they didn’t look stupid.  From this point forward I will just say this: “Thank God!”, because who the heck would want to look as bad as I feel!!!
Wishing you a day filled with many smiles and gentle hugs!



Published by Cynthia Covert

Diagnosed in 2001 with psoriasis, followed by fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis, endometriosis, and later a botched hysterectomy turned her world upside down. Cynthia shares her experience, advice, and tips for how to make life with chronic pain easier and less painful.

2 thoughts on “Insult or Compliment?

  1. I absolutely hate when someone tells me “oh awesome your up and walking” ok I walk in my home I HURT beyond belief. I hate using my cane and have not been approved for a wheelchair yet. I hardly leave my house and I’m constantly laying in bed as being flat is the only relief from my one pain. My fibro pain ugh don’t even get me started. No I might not “looks sick” here let me throw up on your feet. Maybe then you will believe me. …. Gentle hugs sister of pain.. Love ya

    1. You hurt all the time?? Lol. Some people will never understand. Hugs!!! Just a suggestion, if you can’t afford to buy a wheelchair and are tired of waiting for your insurance company to approve it, talk to your church if you go to one or ask friends to see if theirs can help. I received mine many years ago from a church that had a surplus of wheelchairs for members and guests to use. I know that without my wheelchair, I’d leave the house way less than I do with it. I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain.

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