A short post addressing where we go wrong in empathizing with others, and how we can learn from our mistakes.
Wow! You look soooo good! It’s so great to see you feeling better.
Woah, woah, woah. How do you know how I feel? Sure, I may be wearing something other than sweatpants, have a braid in my hair, and a smile on my face. I might seem alert and energetic and there might not be bags under my eyes. But it doesn’t have anything to do with how I feel. Sadly, few realize that someone’s appearance has no connection to how they feel. It’s snap judgments like these that annoy me the most. Because one things for certain, whether we like it or not:
Crohn’s disease is an invisible illness.
Now, I’ve touched on this before, but I’m going to repeat it again, and again, and again, until people finally get it. I’m not saying that everyone is a judgmental jerk who only cares about what others look like, but unfortunately, far too many people just don’t get what the words “invisible illness” mean. Crohn’s disease, like many other diseases, can be described by such words. It is an invisible illness. You Can. Not. See. It.
Therefore, no matter how good I look (thank you, by the way), there is no way of knowing how I feel without asking me. Because it’s easy to hide pain, fatigue, stress, and blah behind a smile. And when people only think of how you look, they see that smile and assume you’re feeling great. I’m not saying all smiles are lies, but let’s just say
sometimes a lot of times, people say they’re fine when they’re not.
So before you assume that someone, whether they have a chronic illness, or the flu, or if they are just an average Joe, is feeling just out of this world because they look “good,” take a moment to ask them how they truly feel. It is wonderful to compliment someone on their outfit, or their hair, or even their smile. But there’s a difference between saying “Wow! You look good! How are you feeling?” and “Wow! You look good! I’m so glad you’re feeling better.” Because in truth, you don’t know that they’re feeling better. Someone could be feeling absolutely horrible as their insides are at war, yet still manage to throw on some jeans and a sweater. As, with an invisible illness, how you look is not how you feel.
For example, I look like a “normal” teenage girl. But I bet you a “normal” teenage girl doesn’t feel much like me. I have friends who look great on the outside, but inside they are overflowing with stress and anxiety. Not everyone takes the elevator because they are lazy; some people have medical concerns you know nothing about. Just because someone looks put together doesn’t mean they are feeling okay. And just because someone looks like a zombie who’s been living in a dumpster doesn’t mean they feel the part.
We live in a society that puts way too much emphasize on what one looks like, and way too little on how they truly feel.
If you are young, you are healthy. Who cares if you have an invisible autoimmune disease? If you are old, you are sick. Why does it matter that you exercise daily and eat well? If you are thin, you are beautiful. Your struggle with weight gain is considered a hoax. If you are overweight, you are shameful. Too bad nobody realizes you live a healthy lifestyle and are happy with yourself. If you are smiling, you feel happy. But no one cares that there is pain behind that smile. If you have a straight face, you are a negative thinker. Or, you are just busy deciding what flavor ice cream to order 😀 . If you look tired, you are lazy. If only people knew about your constant battle with fatigue. If you look good, you feel great. But what if you don’t?
The bolded words represent what society values more: one’s appearance. The non-bolded phrases stand for the often-ignored truth. So how can it be that we don’t ask how someone is feeling, but just assume it based on how they look? Because we are judging books by their covers. Only they’re people, not books.
It shouldn’t be this way, and thankfully, it doesn’t have to.
If we are willing to change.
The next time you annoyed at a friend for cancelling plans when they clearly look fine, take a second to think about how they feel.
Before rolling your eyes at a classmate as they sit in the nurse’s office for no reason, realize that there probably is a reason; you just can’t see it.
So before you assume, judge, and decide someone’s condition based on their appearance, understand that you are wrong. Looks aren’t everything. In fact, they aren’t anything.
If you want to know how someone feels, ask them and respect their answer. Don’t just look at them and decide for yourself. Because nice clothes, perfect hair, and a smile may make someone look good, but it doesn’t mean they feel the same way. And emotions are infinitely more valuable than appearances.