Poker Face

Despite every good intention, being told “you don’t look sick” can sometimes be as equally frustrating as it is a compliment!

Life with a chronic illness demands you to pull your poker face on a daily basis. You get pretty good at it. So good in fact, it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that you’re fine.


Take this as an example, my thoughts in the hours prior to a recent admission to hospital with pneumonia… 


*Comes home from work early feeling blah and no energy…*


  • I’m a bit sore, must have just overdone it in the garden.
  • It’s freezing – I’ve been sitting in front of the fire for 1 hour shivering, that thermometer saying it’s 24 degrees inside – must be wrong!

  • Hhm, phlegm that’s comparable in colour to wasabi – maybe I should get that checked… nah, that can wait until next week, I’ve got more exciting things to do this weekend!

  • OK this pain is really sharp when I breathe in, hopefully I can ride it out


*enters George and Mum with their concerned faces on, reminding me I’ve been on antibiotics for the last 8/10 weeks…*


  • OK, maybe I’m not well…

  • But I look OK, so no doctor will take this seriously – especially as it’s after hours and we will have to go to ED


*reminded not to be stubborn, as I often become when sick*

  • Off to hospital – worrying not about my health, but how hard it’s going to be to convince the doctors that I’m unwell

*get to hospital, doctor listens to lungs and describes it as an orchestra. Other results show I’m in fact very sick*


Admitting to yourself you’re sick is hard, and working up the words to say that to someone else is even harder – especially when you’re well aware you look fine! Infections can come on really quickly. I’ll be fine one hour, yet the the next be sore and breathless.


Saying I don’t look sick puts another barrier up to me feeling I can express how I’m really doing.


Even when I’m in hospital, I have to work up the courage to ask for pain relief – a seemingly irrational belief that they may think I’m faking the pain, or just after drugs.


So long blabble short, complimenting me that I don’t look sick doesn’t help validating to myself that I am – something that I need to do to one, get on with treatment, and two, actually force myself to rest up!


But please know, I appreciate how hard it is to find the right words of support, so if the “you don’t look sick” rolls off your tongue I’m not going to get frustrated!


Em x 

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