IBD Patient's Pet-Peeve: "You Don't Look Sick"!

  • If you have ever had a chronic illness you know that there will be people who will help you by what they say and, inevitably, people who say the wrong thing.  This is also true for people dealing with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. 

    As I have talked with IBD patients over the years the one statement that gets repeated to them time and time again is, "But, you don't look sick".  In some instances people really do mean this as a compliment.  They want you to know you still look pretty or healthy and truly believe that this comment is building you up.   

    However, most patients I have spoken with admit that often this type of statement undermines the pain and severity of what they are going through.  If someone has just explained all of the pain they go through with their IBD and a friend responds, "But, you don't look sick".  It is likely to make them feel as if you believe they are exaggerating their illness.  

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    Patients with IBD tend to have had a long journey to reach an accurate diagnosis.  Some may feel that people became frustrated with the duration of illness and how it complicates friendships and the patient's participation in various activities.  For example, one patient noted "If I had a broken leg no one would question that I had pain.  No one would get frustrated when I have to cancel plans and no one would be frustrated if they had to make accommodations for me".  Sometimes not looking "sick" can make it harder to be heard.

    That is not to say that you can never give an IBD patient a compliment on their looks.  If the "compliment" comes in an unsolicited way, when the person's health is not the topic, it is much more likely to be received as a compliment.

    As patients we need to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Most truly are trying to be helpful and supportive.

Published On: April 11, 2012