A while back, I wrote a post bemoaning the phrase “How are you?”. I was surprised by how many people agreed that this simple question can be near impossible to answer for those struggling with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, or any other invisible illness. But “How are you?” isn’t the only phrase that gets me stuck in the conversational mud of migraines. There’s also this one:
“You look great!”
In this past week alone, three different people have told me this, either on a Zoom call or from six feet away with a mask covering half my face. If I look great in such socially distant circumstances, I must look simply radiant up close. My husband says I do, but he’s smart and would never say otherwise.
This is a relatively new experience, being told I look great. My monster migraines were complicated by food for a long while, so I did lose weight while also losing a lot of sleep and general health. And when I was in the hospital, I got so sick that I turned grayish green–or so I’m told. I didn’t see myself during the grayish green days, but I tend to imagine that I looked like a Borg. And I don’t mean like Seven of Nine, with subtle implants, spandex, and lots of makeup. I mean a Borg with slimy skin and cables coming out of their head.
I do look a lot more like myself now that I don’t have a constant migraine. My skin is clearer, my eyes are less baggy. I’ve moved my old clothes from the trunk back into the closet. Friends have noticed a change in my complexion, and they say I look great, or they say I’m glowing.
But sometimes, I’m barely coping.
On the bad days, the migrainey days, I wish I could turn grayish green again. I want to bridge the gap between how I look and how I feel. I want someone to notice and say, “Gosh, it looks like you have a migraine. Thanks for waking up, you go-getter!” But my pain is invisible. I look great.
It’s possible to glow on the outside while fighting monsters on the inside. But I’ve found a way to exist in the conflict, the tension between what is seen and what is unseen. When someone says I look great when I feel terrible, I try to remember–they are expressing joy. There will be days that I rejoice, too. I deposit their joyful words into my soul, like galleons in a treasure chest. And when the migraine leaves, I go out in the sun. I see the blue sky and the colorful flowers. I ride my bike. I celebrate. I cash in.