Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Brent was standing in front of his bathroom mirror looking at himself. He has never thought of himself as a vain person, not at all. “So what’s making me so concerned about how I look?” he asked himself.
The truth was that he didn’t like what he saw.
It wasn’t anything specific. A little tired looking? Eyes not as clear? A new wrinkle? Drawn? Puffy? It was nothing and it was everything. This led Brent to question whether his chronic condition, and its treatment, might be affecting his appearance. Were other people noticing the changes?
And this caused him to think about other aspects of himself. Did he appear as “with it,” as energetic, as he had in the past? Was he still appearing to be a competent person?
“Wow,” Brent said to the man in the mirror. “I don’t know if I’m imagining this or not. But you seem to be changing on me. I am not sure if I quite recognize you anymore!”
Brent wondered if he should ask his wife or friends if they were noticing any changes that his chronic condition might have caused. But he wasn’t sure they would give him a direct answer. He was also concerned they would, and he might not like the answer.
Coping starts with facing the fear
Many chronic conditions can cause changes. The condition itself could change the way you appear to others—your looks, the way you carry yourself, your energy level. So could the self-care routine you have to follow. As well as the treatment regimen. Human beings don’t do well with unwanted change. And changes in the way we appear to others can be scary!
Are you having some concerns about how your chronic condition is changing the way you appear to others? Here’s help:
First, fear is normal. Chronic conditions bring up a lot of emotions, and fear is one of them. So don’t fight the fear factor. Think of fear as a message from your inner self that there is something for you to pay attention to. And then pay attention.
Don’t keep it in. I know it’s not easy to talk about how your chronic condition might affect the way you appear to others. And yes, I agree that you may or may not get an honest answer. But one way to approach this conversation is just letting someone you trust know you need a listening ear, no feedback, no answers required. A chance to vent without being judged. Releasing your fears into the light of day can help to take their power away.
Get some real information about what to expect. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about the effects of your chronic condition and its treatment. No question is too unimportant to ask. If it affects your quality of life or your self-esteem, then it’s important.
Get some real information about what you can do. In the event your doctor tells you something you’re not happy to hear, this is also a good time to have a talk about what you can do. Sure, you’re not in control of everything. But you may learn what you can do to help take even better care of yourself.
Message to the person in the mirror: You are not all about your appearance! In the world we live in, the media are constantly telling us how to look and act if we want to be successful and loved. But none of that is true. You are not the sum total of your appearance. And you are certainly more than your chronic condition. It’s what’s inside that counts. That’s where the real beauty lies. So let the real you shine through! While we’re on the subject, people who really matter in your life are there because of the real you.
Remember: change is not always a bad thing. Let’s not focus only on the potential of changes you would rather avoid. Keep in mind that taking care of yourself, and following the guidelines your doctor has put in place, can also change you for the better. And having said that, keep in mind that your self-care and treatment regimen is most likely benefitting you in ways that outweigh any downside. Stay focused on the big picture!
You, your chronic condition, and the person in the mirror. It’s only human to be concerned about how you appear to other people. And yes, your chronic condition could impact your appearance. But keep your perspective. Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. And every day remind yourself that you’re a beautiful person, inside and out.
What advice would you offer to someone who is concerned about the effects of chronic illness on their appearance? Help others in our community by commenting below.