Tuesday, November 27, 2012

But, You Look Fine…

One of the hardest parts of having this head injury has been fighting what others say. I wrote about it once and I’m still dealing with it. Since day one, I’ve heard, “But, you look fine.” For the most part, yea, I look in the mirror and see that same person that had been there before (minus a little spark in my eyes). I like to joke and say that I can’t help being so adorable…I was born that way. I guess if I had ended up splitting my head open and having some sort of disfiguring injury, I might elicit a bit more sympathy.

I may look fine on the outside. Inside...not so much.
It’s hard for friends, and even family, to look at me and think that I’ve got something wrong going on. “You look fine,” they say. What no one sees is the extreme thought and energy that I need to use now to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. When I have to focus and concentrate on doing something, I end up absolutely exhausted. Like I ran a marathon. I’ll have to take a nap that may be longer than the amount of time it took to do the task. Seems stupid, I know, especially when I used to be the Queen of Multi-Tasking. The previous me would think it was stupid too. But, to those with post-concussive syndrome, or PCS, this is normal.

Being able to take a short walk a few times a week is a success. I’m trying to work my way up to a mile. For me, that seems crazy. Especially when it’s on relatively flat ground, too. Like the beach. I miss my days of hiking. Doing the 4,000+ footers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Going out on those trails that say they are only for the most experienced of hikers. The ones where if you fall in a crevice, you’ll need rope to climb out. The ones where if you fall, you have to do everything in your power to grab hold of a root or something to stop your sliding descent. The ones where you bring survival gear just because you never know what situation you’ll run into or what weather may blow in. Now, I walk a hundred feet or so and rest a few moments. You can’t tell me that isn’t frustrating.

This is a goal of mine...to be able to stand on top of a mountain again.

Admitting your limitations to yourself is hard. Knowing what you used to be capable of doing and comparing it to what you can do now is hard. I look like I should be able to walk any distance or even go for a run. I look like I should be able to work. I look like I could mow my own lawn. I look like I could go out in a noisy restaurant or bar and meet up with people. I look like I could be in a store for more than 40 minutes. I look like I could ride a bike. I look like I could vacuum my house without earplugs. I look like… I look like I could do a lot of things. But, right now still, I can’t.

A friend of mine, who is also a psychologist, has been a wonderful support in this whole, ‘But, you look fine’ thing. He has Lyme Disease. I’ll call him Jim. To the average person, Jim is a good-looking, normal guy. No spots, no bulls-eyes on his face. He’s smart and funny. He’s a normal Joe. Or, Jim. Because of the Lyme, he has fare-ups where he is absolutely exhausted, where his clothes feel like they’re made out of sandpaper, where he has excruciating headaches. But, he looks fine. People with cancer can also look fine, another friend pointed out. Ask them how fine they feel.

This isn’t a case of mind-over-matter either. It’s just a brain injury. A real, honest-to-goodness invisible injury that is just taking its own sweet time to heal. I know that I’m better off than a lot of people who have had concussions. And, I’m worse off than others. I’m thanking my lucky stars that I can still write and spell (though, I do actually mess that up often these days and as a writer and Boggle and Scrabble psycho, that’s tough). I can function on my own for most daily tasks. Thanks to all my friends who have helped me with the tasks I just can’t do. I can still drive. I can still laugh and smile, though I don’t always understand things like I used to. Especially if I wasn’t fully concentrating on what someone was saying.

So, if you see me, or someone else with a silent illness, give that person a little slack, or maybe a little help. Just because we may look fine, it doesn’t mean we really are.

Do you or someone you know “look fine” but aren’t and are going through a similar situation? Please share below.



  1. Hi Barb

    Have been reading your blog posts with interest. This one called out to me as my sister-in-law has been battling an invisible illness for over a decade. She has become bedridden as she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or ME(myalgic encephalomyelitis) as other countries call it. She also "looks fine" and shares her thoughts on her blog: http://www.dreamsatstake.com/

    She was a vibrant, active woman whose life has been halted with symptoms so miserable, I cannot imagine lying in my bed and watching the world pass by. Give her blog a glance if you can and know that many out there are suffering an invisible illness. I hope you find health and happiness in 2013 my friend.

  2. This is Esther Bertrand by the way:)

  3. Esther, thanks for sharing (miss you, btw!). I just checked out your sister-in-law's page. What a brave, strong woman! I'll be sure read more of her posts and see if I can pass the word on about her blog. It is difficult to have something where "you look fine" but just aren't. http://www.dreamsatstake.com/


Please share your thoughts and comments. Thanks!