dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"It is better to look good than to feel good" ... say what?

It happens all the time to me... and I’m sure it must for you as well. I’ll run into someone who’ll say to me, “You look great today, you must have gotten over that condition you had” or “You aren’t limping, you must be getting better!”

That’s the problem with having a chronic pain condition. Pain isn’t a tangible thing, something people can see just by looking at you. It’s impossible for them to truly understand how much you hurt, especially if you have made an effort to get dressed up, brush your hair, and actually look in a mirror. For some of us that takes all the energy we’ve got! But it’s like a sort of sabotage. You look better and then others start expecting more of you or making the comments like the ones above which can be emotionally draining.

It’s much simpler with my plants. When they have a problem, it’s obvious from first glance. They wilt, turn yellow or brown, drop their leaves... they really let you know when they aren’t doing well. 

So what should we do? I don’t want to always have to explain my medical condition to people who don’t ‘get it’ every time I want to dress up a bit. I also don’t want to go to church or attend a party wearing my pajamas and bathrobe, with bed-head hair, shuffling along in ratty slippers.

“Any idiot can face a crisis - 
it's day to day living that wears you out.”  
~Anton Chekhov

There has to be a happy medium. The hard part is... it hinges on us. It isn’t fair, but we have to accept it’s all in how we react to the situation. As much as we’d like to believe it, we can’t expect all people to completely grasp our medical issues, particularly if they are merely acquaintances or co-workers. It’s up to you to decide whether to take the time to sit them down and attempt to explain why their comment is incorrect. 

It’s harder still when the person who doesn’t “get it” is a close friend or relative who you’ve already made the attempt to educate. In that case, all you can do is let it go and not let it bother you. Try to have a sense of humor about it, maybe have a few responses you’ve saved up to use for such an event. **

When I try to make light of this type of thing, I always find myself recalling one particular character on Saturday Night Live from years ago. In a parody of suave Latin actor Fernando Lamas, comedian Billy Crystal had a regular skit he did called Fernando’s Hideaway. Billy’s character had a particular phrase he was fond of: “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

If you’d like to watch Billy/Fernando giving this advice, 
here’s a link to him playing this SNL character in a music video: 


We could debate whether or not that life philosophy is good or bad. But when I think of his phrase I always start to laugh because I can see Billy/Fernando acting silly in my head. In a way, I can relate to what he’s saying. In behavioral therapy, they often say to “act as if...” and the feeling will come afterward. If you are depressed and avoiding people, the therapist will say “Act as if you are pleased to see people, make yourself go out and interact, and you’ll eventually start to feel more comfortable with them and even eager to be with others.”

Using this idea of acting “as if"... if we take the time and effort to make ourselves look nice, we may actually perceive less pain or at least feel a little better about ourselves. At a wedding I went to recently, even though I had a high level of pain, I recall having this thought, “I look good in spite of how bad I feel and I’m glad I made the effort.” So I guess I was following “Fernando’s” mantra after all!

**Of course it’s still a major annoyance when someone makes a comment about how we don’t look sick, therefore we must be cured. We need to try to take it as a compliment. I’ve used the responses: “I guess I clean up well but it sure takes a lot of effort”, “Make-up can sure do amazing things,” and when feeling snarky, “It’s not my looks I’m complaining about.”

I found a page of humorous responses on the very appropriately named website ButYouDontLookSick.com. Some of the quips are polite but there are numerous comebacks I don't recommend using if you wish to remain friendly with the commenter. Perhaps this list will inspire you to think up a response or two you feel comfortable using, or it will at least give you a secret laugh and reduce your stress.

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