Many symptoms of multiple sclerosis are invisible to the casual observer. We aren’t all in wheelchairs or use canes, nor do we all share the same obvious symptoms. We often appear to be the very picture of health.
In many ways, that’s a good thing. Who doesn’t want to look healthy, strong, and vital? In fact, some of us go to great lengths to achieve that healthy look. But the invisible symptoms of M.S. can also cause misunderstanding and lead to emotional stress.
Some of the most common complaints of people with M.S. are fatigue, numbness, and weakness– things that cannot be seen and often cannot be understood by those who have not experienced them at high levels. These seemingly benign symptoms can necessitate missing work, school, or social obligations, causing chores to pile up and misunderstandings to arise.
That’s enough to contend with, but what if your family, friends, and co-workers don’t really believe you? What if they think you are faking, or taking advantage of your diagnosis?
“But you look so good” is the phrase that in most circles is taken as a compliment, but people who live with invisible illness often view it as having a double meaning. We may be inclined to wonder if the real meaning was, “you look fine — there’s obviously nothing wrong with you, so why are you faking it?”
That kind of emotional mind game can take a heavy toll and even leave us to question ourselves. It’s not difficult to fall into that trap. In the long run, we are limited by how much we can change someone else’s thinking, but eventually, we’ve got to make peace with ourselves.
We can do our best to educate those closest to us, to help them understand invisible illness. But at some point we’ve also got to stop evaluating ourselves based on what others choose to believe. Not everyone will get it, and we cannot allow that to affect our own self-worth.
If we put in the effort to look good, perhaps it’s best to accept the compliment and not concern ourselves with any hidden — or not so hidden — meanings. Ultimately, we live with our own truth.
If you love someone who lives with invisible illness, please take the time to learn all you can about their condition and really listen to what they have to say. Appearances can be deceiving, and not always a good indication of health status.
And one more tip — instead of saying, “But you look so good!” try “You look great… but how are you really?” A little compassion goes a long way.