An Authentic, Sometimes Gritty, and Always Hopeful Blog for All Who Live with Severe Physical Pain

Monday, September 19, 2011

"But, You Look Good!"

When sitting at a restaurant about a month ago, a neighbor whom I had not seen in a long while, walked over to say hello, and asked me about my pain.  After I shared a  quick update with people about my pain disorder,  she remarked,  “...But you look so good!”

Oh, if I only had a dollar for every time I've heard that one!  Maybe, upon hearing it, I wouldn't cringe inside.

Many  of our pain syndromes are invisible to others because they simply do not appear in a visible manner, unless we are captured in an obviously serious pain episode. 

Otherwise, our bodies look perfectly normal. 

The fact of the matter is that people simply cannot help but to think that what they see with their eyes on the outside is a reflection of what is going on in the inside. 

I no longer just smile and say "thank you". With my husband's encouragement, I have developed a passion for helping people better understand that looks are deceiving. I don't do this to try to say, "Look at me, I have it awful".  

Instead, here are three good reasons replying with more than "Thank you."  

1 -- We speak on behalf of all people who live with chronic pain, when we do not make light of it, because pain is real, it is challenging, and people who live with pain need to be validated.  Too many of us have been treated like “head cases”, or, in the least, like “whiners”.  We further those attitudes when we pretend we are fine.

2 – We may need support from the very people we mislead at some point, perhaps sooner than we think.  Let’s don’t confuse them.

3 – We can be misunderstood, or misjudged, if we do not speak of our pain.  This  happened to me. A woman in my church, I'll call "Linda" asked me if I could oversee a committee for our upcoming women's conference, which I turned down because of the limitations of my pain. When the conference leadership group met, naturally, Linda told everyone I had declined her request, based upon my my struggle with pain.  

Immediately, another woman, I'll call "Diane" says, "I am really surprised she said no.  I saw her at church on Sunday.  She looked great, and I told her so.  She never mentioned feeling bad to me." 

Now, don't be hard on Diane.  I know Diane NOT to be a gossip.  She was completely surprised by what Laura said, and spoke out with no intention to sound critical.  

I could have prevented the confusion by responding differently to Diane when she told me how "good" I looked.   

  When people tell you, “you look good”, here are some responses
   I hope you  will consider:

  I have my good days and I have my bad days.

  Thanks for caring.  I try to act like I feel better than I really do.  

   I’m grateful to feel well enough to be here.

  Thanks, It’s good to be here, and it's worth the extra rest I will need 
  for having done so. 

  People often say that to me.  It’s a double-edged sword.  I can hide my pain most
  of the  time pretty well, but it can confuse people to think I no longer have any.  But, it 
  sure is good to be here.

  I’m trying my best to do well OVER my circumstances, instead of being under them.


Until next time,



  1. Judi-
    this blog really got my attention and I love your "Responses" to say when people say those words without thinking "oh you look so good-Pain must be gone!"

    I have experienced this for years-still do but finally after being angered each time somebody would say these words to me, I found a response that for whatever reason has helped to "get their attention"-

    So when I see a person and they deliver those words to me, I stand still, draw a deep breath, look then straight in the face and slowly say this, praying they will HEAR the words.

    "Well-Looks can be very Deceiving!" Nobody has dared to respond back. I don't say it out of spite or resentment-but out of truth. As you said, we who suffer with Chronic Pain do have days where everything looks really good-but its the outward look-if somebody were to peak inside, they would be stunned to see the level of Pain and how its raging in our bodies.

    It took me a long time to let go of "Explaining" my story to others. Honestly-I can see people who have made the comments to me and when I would start trying to address their comments-I could see their hearts had already walked out of the conversation. Almost like they are afraid to get TOO close to Chronic Pain.

    Thank you for sharing this eye-opening reflection of how others words can be so rough to those who suffer this Chronic Pain nightmare.

    God bless you. Martha

    1. Thanks for sharing how you have come to terms with this. As you respond in this way, you are also advocating for the rest of us who "buck up". Hopefully, it helps others understand a bit of what it is like to live in our skin. Blessings, friend. Judi