“You don’t look sick?” is potentially one of the most irritating comments a person can make to a patient with Crohn’s or Colitis. I’ve written on the topic of inappropriate comments with chronic illness in my own blog previously, but as I’ve recently been going through a particularly relentless flare-up it’s something I’ve encountered at least once a day. The above phrase, along with several others, can come from any area of your friendship spectrum. People who are seasoned professionals at listening to you gripe about your condition, to those who haven’t a clue what Crohn’s is; will at some point, most likely say something with cause to offend. They, (on the whole), won’t mean it. That’s where a bit of thought on your part will have to come in. You have to learn to pick your battles.
It’s important to remember that this aforementioned phrase in particular, will most commonly be uttered 80% out of concern, 10% total ignorance, 5% bitchiness and 5% by people with memory lapses. Cling onto that 80% – those are the people in your life who truly care and want to see you as well as can be. They would absolutely prefer if they didn’t have to mention Crohn’s at all and that you didn’t have it to mention, but them’s the breaks. They perhaps relish the moments when you actually don’t look sick because they have seen you at your worst. Crohn’s is, on the whole, an invisible illness, but it still makes itself visible from time to time. When I was a few weeks prior to my surgery I had dropped 4 dress sizes, was under 6 stone and was pale and gaunt in the extreme. There was unquestionably no denying I was ‘sick’. My hair was falling out, my skin was chapped and sore and I was stooped over in pain so often I looked like I was growing a hunchback. It’s understandable that when loved ones have seen you looking this unwell that they don’t want to see, or even visualise you in that way again.
Phrases like ‘you don’t look sick’ generally irritate me because of what they imply; that we are somehow fabricating how serious Crohn’s can be, or that we are faking it. But I prefer these days to use these comments as an excuse to educate rather than execute finishing moves on the main offenders. Let them know that perhaps you don’t look sick, but that you are and here’s why. I doubt they will ask you again after hearing the grizzlier symptoms.
Written by Kathleen Nicholls from Crohnological Order