Please don’t judge how a person feels based on how they look
Human beings are visual creatures, so we often associate how someone feels based on how they look and act. Sadly, this is very short sighted. Many people live with life altering health conditions such as chronic pain, dystonia (which I have) cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, etc., with little to no visible symptoms to the naked eye. We also can’t see anxiety, depression, dementia, PTSD, etc., which can be crippling, so we should never base any conclusions about how someone feels on their appearance.
For many years, I lived with very visible symptoms of cervical dystonia and intense chronic pain where I could barely function, as well as morbid obesity. I also dealt with debilitating anxiety and depression, which did not show, but I walked around thinking everyone could see what I was feeling. It was horrible and I know many of you can relate because I talk to people about this all the time. After losing 150 pounds (see before and after below) and learning to better manage my dystonia and chronic pain symptoms, I look close to normal so most people wrongfully think I am cured.
In actuality, I still live with pain and muscle contractions, awkward postures from muscles involuntarily pulling me off center, fatigue, etc. It is just not as intense or as visible as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel like my neck muscles are strangling me at times, causing pain or making me dizzy and unstable, forcing me to lie down. Unfortunately, people can’t see what I feel. so they often don’t understand what it is like, or they forget what I have told them because they need a constant visual reminder.
This is the case for many people who are living with most chronic health conditions. Many symptoms are completely invisible. Granted, dystonia is one that is often visible, but I know countless people with dystonia who have brutal symptoms that do not manifest physically. As a result, it is hard to diagnose and it is hard for people to believe them when they explain how they feel. People think it is all in our head, we are lazy, looking for attention, and so many other thoughtless judgments.
Sadly though, we all judge and compare. We do it with relationships, financial status, social life, possessions, and countless other things. Some people even compare their health with others. I used to compare my dystonia (and most of my life for that matter) with people all the time.
When I was experiencing the worst of my dystonia symptoms, in my mind, if someone didn’t look as bad as me then there was no way they could feel as bad as me. How wrong I was and shame on me!! Appearance means nothing. I know people with very difficult looking symptoms that have little to no pain and are very functional, others with no visible symptoms and in terrible pain, unable to do much of anything, and of course many people in between. How one looks is not a measure for how one feels!
When times were really tough for me, it was hard to reconcile hearing people say things like, “I can’t take it anymore”; “I wish I were never born”; “The pain is more than I can handle.” When I said these things it was usually just a way of describing to others how sick I felt, but there were plenty of times I really felt this way.
When I heard others use these same words while they were still working, travelling, running, hiking, playing tennis and golf, etc., going to social functions, and living what appeared to be a pretty normal life, while I was literally living on my floor because I was in too much pain to sit or stand, I was infuriated. For years, just walking to the bathroom from my bed was a major undertaking. I couldn’t fathom doing all the other things.
It took me a long time to realize that I was being unfair because we only know what we know. Our reality is unique to us, so for a person who we perceive as having “mild” symptoms, it might be far worse than we think and/or to them it might be the worst thing they ever experienced.
People also have different pain thresholds, attitudes, and coping skills. Thus, their words ring true for them. They can describe themselves however they want and be involved in whatever activities they choose. We are not in their shoes so we don’t know what they are experiencing. Quite frankly, it is none of our business.
Just because someone else, whether they have a limiting health condition or not, might be able to do things you can’t or find uncomfortable does not make you any less of a person. There may be things you can do with ease where others struggle. Either way, it doesn’t matter. You have many great qualities and everyone in your life should focus on the strengths that exist and the accomplishments YOU achieve every day. Our time is better spent doing all we can to feel as well as we can, instead of comparing ourselves with others and trying to understand and figure out someone else’s life. Lastly, the true measure of who we are is how far we have come from our darkest days. Not when life was easier.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.