I try not to criticize people for judging others by appearance because I’ve done it myself. Used to do it a lot, if I’m honest. My eyes were opened a while back when Lisa Adams wrote this post, which helped me realize that I was doing this, and stop (if not completely, at least more often).
Lisa’s post was written as she underwent chemotherapy for the breast cancer that would kill her in March, 2015. Her condition was terminal. She never hid this fact.
I’ve recently gotten more insight into this…what? Phenomenon? Behavior? I’m not sure what to call it. My situation is (very) different from Lisa’s, but her words resonate for me more than ever now.
Because, you see, I don’t look sick. If my husband is to be believed (and he’s the most honest person I know), I look better than I have in a long while. This makes sense for a couple of reasons.
My heart condition didn’t come on me suddenly. It developed over a period of time, and looking back, it was probably pretty severe as much as a year before it was diagnosed. So my body was struggling, and of course this was reflected in my appearance.
Now, with the help of drugs (better living through chemistry!), my heart is still at about a third of optimal functionality, but it is getting help.
I’m also retaining some fluid, which makes me look less waif-ish. I’ve always been skinny, but now I don’t look unhealthily so. Of course, it’s because my heart and kidneys aren’t getting rid of all the fluid in my body that they should, but the surface result is that I look fine. Better than I did six months ago.
Just as Lisa describes, I’m making more of an effort, too. I don’t want to appear ill to anyone, most importantly to myself.
So what doesn’t show? The fatigue. The fact that walking even a short distance at anywhere near a reasonable pace makes me feel like I’ve run a mile. The times my heart races and I sit still for fear of dropping dead. The frustration at trying to navigate a healthcare system that seems purpose-built to keep people sick. The ejection fraction that worries everyone who understands it. The examining everything I eat and drink with a virtual microscope because sodium can have a real and frighteningly negative effect on my heart and kidneys.
I reported a while back that I’d acquired a disabled parking placard. It has come in handy a few times, and has also given me additional perspective on this “judging by appearance” thing. There was the old guy who gave me a disapproving look in the supermarket parking lot. “Wanna compare heart conditions?” I asked him. He shrugged and gave me an apologetic smile as he meandered off.
Then there was the male human being (I didn’t spend years in corporate PR for nothing!) who went out of his way to drive up to us to yell (literally) that I was “handicapped in the head.” If it wouldn’t have put my life at risk, I would have read him the riot act.
Look, my purpose here is not to engender pity. And if you’re reading this, you’re not like Parking Lot Man—quite the opposite, in fact. But I hope that by putting this out there, it might reach even one person who is like I was before Lisa pointed it out to me and I got to experience this “but you don’t look sick” thing myself.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for your kindness and support. It means the world to me.