An article I read on Heart Sisters, a favorite blog by heart attack survivor Carolyn Thomas, “You Look Great! And Other Things You Should Never Say to a Heart Patient” really touched a nerve.
It reminded me of when I was in graduate school and I was in the middle of a bad nephrotic syndrome relapse. I was in psychotherapy at the time. I remember complaining to my therapist that my professors expected me to keep up with my work like everyone else. In her blunt, pragmatic manner, she said, “Well, of course they do. You don’t look sick.”
Whoa. That hurt. How could she say that?
“But I AM sick,” I protested.
“Yes, you are. You are missing my point.”
Her point was: I wore makeup to cover up my paleness and the dark circles under my eyes. I didn’t tell anyone about my illness for fear of making them uncomfortable. Digging deeper, she helped me understand that the thought of ‘using’ my illness to put me in the position of asking for ‘special treatment’ was abhorrent to me (something to do with low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, blah blah blah) so I went in the opposite direction. She pointed out that I was basically not being honest with my professors, or my friends for that matter. After all, they couldn’t read my mind.
She gave me an ultimatum. Either stop whining and do the work like everyone else or… stop whining, fess up and get excused from the deadlines.
Sometimes the truth hurts. Literally.
I decided to suck it up, stopped hiding behind my makeup, told my profs the truth and asked for deferments on my papers. It turned out to be no big deal and I learned a valuable life lesson.
Looking at this topic from another valid perspective: In You Look Great! Carolyn Thomas means to help loved ones understand that saying to someone in emotional or physical pain that they look great can be a double edged sword. She says:
“Wow! You look just fine! You look exactly the same!”
That’s a fairly typical greeting from those who have not seen me since before my heart attack. While they might assume that this is a thoughtful and flattering comment to offer, many times it may not feel that way…
Next time you approach a heart patient, a bereaved person grieving a loss, or those diagnosed with a chronic, progressive disease – what could you do or say instead of gushing over their appearance? One of the most helpful comments to me so far has been some variation of the simple statement:
“It’s wonderful to see you again!”
which is probably fairly accurate, feels pretty darned good to hear, and doesn’t elicit the “If you only knew…” reply that we’re silently muttering.
To read the entire article click here.
Related article: Ten Things to Say to a Sick Friend
Photo courtesy of dadburnham via Flickr