Being Seen and Seeing Others

It feels good to look good. I have multiple chronic conditions. It takes so much effort to get groomed, dressed, and out of the house. I take pride in being able to look nice. It’s a small bit of dignity.

And when people say “You look nice” I’m genuinely grateful and say “Thanks, I tried.” Which usually gets a laugh. The human connection is nice. It’s treasures because so rare as housebound often.

That said, close friends and family do notice the early stages of migraine. They see the weariness creeping onto my face, the light leaving my eyes, and hear the change in my speech and cognition.

On good days I seem as light, vibrant and happy as I feel. But on those bad days, I do look heavy, dull and sad.

I live in a fairly small town and visit the same shops, grocer, post office, etc. regularly, so even the folks who I know from these places may notice my slower pace and ask simply “Are you okay?”

Some know of some of my physical ailments, some of migraine. It’s nice to be recognized and asked.

It may be something rare to small towns.

If I end up somewhere new or around new people, a dour look on my face is just one of many. Maybe I’m a grumpy person. Maybe I’m having a bad day. I’ve had passing strangers say negative things when I failed to light up with a smile and return greeting.

I do try to keep a smile through rough times.

It seems a small thing I can do to keep my own morale high and brighten others’ days.

But a smile is sometimes just out of reach.

For me, more than having someone see my “invisible” ailments, I’d like them to have compassion when they are visible.

A hidden blessing of suffering is compassion.

Knowing pain so intimately, I am quick to slow down a hurried transaction and genuinely ask a clerk “Are you okay?” I’ve hugged many a stranger in public who looked like they were having a bad day and said “Yes” when I asked if they wanted a hug. I’ve walked a stranger home experiencing heat stress just to make sure they made it. I’ve entertained the kids of weary adults in waiting rooms.

I’m quick to assume that someone else’s sour mood or face has nothing to do with me and internally wish them well.

And I’m ever so very grateful for all the friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have done the same for me.

I encourage us all to be honest and compassionate.

Let your illness be visible when you could really use some sympathy or help. Explain politely, “Yes, I’m smiling and I’m in great pain.” Raise awareness when you can, and save the battle for your own health when you must.

And look for the light in others’ eyes. If it’s missing, be brave and ask “Are you okay?” Sometimes, the recognition and asking is enough.

See the article that inspired this story at

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