“But you don’t look sick…”

happy face hats

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

There have been some days when it would have been ever-so-handy if I were sporting a cast on my arm, or crutches, or a big fat neck brace. Now that would be a realistic indicator to the world ‘out there’ of how it can sometimes feel to have Coronary Microvascular Disease, a particularly debilitating form of heart disease.

But instead, every day some of us wake up, shower, get dressed in our usual clothes, comb our hair in the usual way, floss and brush just like we have always done – and go about our day, looking pretty much how we’ve always looked.

Few people ‘out there’ who don’t know us would even guess that we live with significant heart disease.  Few would guess that I’m still unable to work at the PR  job I love, for example, or that even the smallest outing with family or friends takes every bit of stamina I can muster, or that I need to nap like a pre-schooler every day just to manage the ‘new normal’ that has become my life.

Few people ‘out there’ know how merely participating in a couple hours of normal, pleasant conversation with friends over coffee can reduce me to a weak, shaky, frazzled heap by the end of our visit because of the sheer mental effort now required. Mind you, I’m a heap with a happy face smile pasted on, of course…

Few people ‘out there’ know how living with ongoing bouts of frightening chest pain, shortness of breath and crushing exhaustion requires a full day of recovery physically and emotionally after each episode.

And they don’t see this, because at least on the exterior, I look and sound pretty much the way I’ve always looked and sounded.

My longtime family doctor calls this my PR curse after 36+ years working in public relations. In the wonderful world of public relations, it doesn’t matter if you have a migraine or a broken leg, you get to be pretty good at slapping on those happy face smiles before tapdancing out to run press conferences or MC fundraising galas or spontaneous media interviews. But I believe you don’t need 36+ years in PR to be an expert at the happy-face-smile-pasting game.

Sound familiar? The subtle message from others:  “But you don’t LOOK sick…” is why I like visiting the unique website of the same name  – and especially the site founder’s bang-on essay, The Spoon TheoryChristine Miserandino wrote this about her own lupus diagnosis, but her words will likely ring bells for many people facing any chronic and progressive diagnosis.

Don’t get me wrong, my heart sisters. There may be some therapeutic value in facing the world ‘out there’ with that happy face smile firmly in place on some occasions:

“Do I sing because I’m happy – or am I happy because I sing?”

See also:

© 2009 Carolyn Thomas  www.myheartsisters.org

4 thoughts on ““But you don’t look sick…”

  1. Pingback: Living with a Broken Heart
  2. carolyn, thank you so much!
    i can so relate. as a vegetarian who has exercised my whole life i was really humbled by CAD. physically, i bounced back from my “procedure” fairly quickly (or so my doctor said). but i still deal with a lot of fatigue and feel (like you) mentally and emotionally vulnerable.
    i’ve also found that i tend to overdo things on my “good days” which sets me back for sometimes a whole week.
    but, again…thank you! it’s good to know, i’m not alone.


    1. Thanks Margaret – isn’t that the truth? Heart disease IS a humbling experience! On the days when we’re feeling a little bit like our old selves, it’s too easy for us to go back to our old over-scheduled habits. Just today, for example, I had planned an art show outing with friends in the a.m. followed by a back-to-back visit in the afternoon with other friends and their two young children. What was I thinking? In my former pre-heart attack life, I could have done both with room for a dozen other outings before and after, but no more! 🙂


  3. Thanks for posting about how irrelevant ‘looking good’ is sometimes. I would like to read more about this topic.


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