Should I Be Trying to Pass as Healthy?

By Crystal Lindell, PNN Columnist

Recently my new boyfriend told me he could tell from the moment he met me that I took pain pills.

“It’s all in the eyes. They look weathered. Mostly because the pain medications affect your sleep pattern.”

“Wait. What? What does that even mean? So I look old?”

“I think it’s really attractive actually.”

Sure. 

I was a bit devastated to find out that my elaborate efforts to convince the world that I am indeed quite healthy had failed me. So much for my $48 concealer from Ulta. 

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The thing is I look young and I’m relatively friendly, so people usually can’t tell that I almost always feel like someone is repeatedly breaking my ribs. And I confess that I often use this to my advantage. People at work are on a need-to-know basis.

Until I met my boyfriend, I rarely told guys about my chronic pain. And when I’m at professional events it never comes up.  Sometimes I feel a little guilty about this, as though I’m somehow reaping the benefits of being able-bodied while my actual body is falling apart.

Looking healthy means nobody ever questions my ability to get things done, show up or keep working.

But the other side of this is that when I actually need help, it’s a lot harder to get. Nobody wants to give up their seat in the waiting area for the young girl who looks like she could go out and run a marathon tomorrow. Well, fine, probably not a marathon, but I definitely look like I could easily walk a 5K.

And getting help lifting a bag, or even using a scooter at the store makes me look like I’m just some lazy blonde chick taking away benefits from the people who actually need them.

I recently covered three trade shows in three weeks for work, and the whole thing left me battered on the couch at home. But during that final week, when I finally was bold enough to just float the idea of using a scooter to get around, someone who doesn’t know about my health said, “Well that would be in poor taste.”

It’s so hard to know what to do in that moment. Do I verbally vomit up my medical history right then? Do I laugh like I’m embarrassed? Or do I just ignore it?

I chose to throw out a sentence about how I was actually in real pain and then dropped the conversation.

More moments like that are bound to come up though. And one day I will have to break down and actually use the scooter. When that happens, I’m sure I’ll get some nasty looks from people who just assume I’m too lazy to walk the trade show floor.

But I’m also sure that eventually people will be able to tell I’m sick just by looking at me. And honestly, I’m dreading that more.

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Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She eats too much Taco Bell, drinks too much espresso, and spends too much time looking for the perfect pink lipstick. She has hypermobile Ehlers Danlos syndrome. 

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.