What We See of Others Is Often An Illusion

What We See of Others Is Often An Illusion

We’ve all heard the expression ‘What you see is what you get.’  Well, this is not always true.  One of the most aggravating things about having MS is hearing people say “you don’t look sick.”  As if there is some particular way those living with MS should appear.  I guess I missed the memo.


What we see of others is often an illusion.  For some the illusion is self-created to block others out.  For others the illusion is created out of necessity to survive day-to-day.  Regardless of the circumstances it is not always easy to know what is going on with someone internally.  I can say that I am guilty of being quick to make judgements even though I work so hard to fight it.  For some reason it is so easy to assume the person who just changed lanes on me is an idiot.  The truth is I have no idea what that person might be going through.  Maybe they just received terrible news and are on the way to see a loved one in the hospital?  Or they might be exhausted from working 3 jobs as a single parent to provide for their family?

The illusion that I create is my body doesn’t hurt and I am okay.  I don’t complain much about the daily pain that comes with Multiple Sclerosis.  I don’t see the benefit of being that person who looks for sympathy.  The truth is that even if someone took the time to listen, they really only care for a moment and then move on to their own problems; this is the reality of life.

It is only when I take a deep breathe and step back that I remind myself to be more aware of what others might be going through.  A smile instead of a scowl could be the difference between someone pulling a trigger and someone seeking help.  Don’t depreciate your value to the world around you.

Take time to pause before reacting and consider the other side of the equation.  When you do you’ll see that we all need to be slower to judge and quicker to sympathize.


67 thoughts on “What We See of Others Is Often An Illusion

  1. This is so true. Like you said if someone took the time to listen, they really only care for a moment and then they move onto their own problems. That’s life. Very thoughtful post.

  2. I agree that this is a very thoughtful post. I have often thought the same thing as someone rages by me on the highway, as they flash their lights to get me to go faster or move. At first, I am agitated by their unsafe driving, but then tell myself that is not how Jesus would react and maybe they are in a hurry to get someone who may need them. You are also right that we can’t always see if someone is sick or hurting, as we hide behind masks and or walls. I struggle not to be too harsh on those who I don’t know who may appear to be someone I wouldn’t like. It is not to say that I am a mean person or judgmental. I guess it stems from years of dealing with those who have judged me or wounded me in some way. I think it’s called being jaded.
    Thank you for posting this. I too had a deep thought on life today and posted about it as I heard sad news about a man who had been searching for his wife and three kids in a fire down in Tennessee. This may not be the same as your post my friend, but your post reminded me of the struggles that we all face.

  3. I am so sorry to hear that you have MS. Two of my cousins have it too. One went blind in one eye. The other is doing fine.

    When someone on the freeway or roadway speeds past us, hubby and I usually say they must have diarrhea and are rushing to the bathroom and that’s why they’re in such a rush.

  4. So true! It’s easy to judge. I’ve been guilty but I try really hard to remember I have no idea what they may be going through. I think living with a chronic illness opens your eyes a little more.
    I create that illusion too. For one like you say they don’t really listen and that isn’t exactly their fault because unless you know what it’s like you can’t really understand. The other part of that is I say I am ok because what else is there to say. If I say otherwise or how I really feel sometimes I might start to believe I’m not ok and feel worse. This is my ok. 🙂

  5. I agree with much of what you say. There are, however people who care for more than a moment. The Samaritans give up their free time, on a voluntary (unpaid) basis to listen to the problems of strangers. Also there are exceptional friends who will devote considerable time to helping those close to them. So, you are right, the vast majority of people care (if at all) for only a moment. There are, however exceptions to this rule. I also agree with you that we should do our best not to jump to conclusions about others. Kevin

  6. Brave, honest, transparent post! Learning that I had Crohn’s Disease in my early 20s helped me to be a better person. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I’m grateful for this cross. I’m still confused when people find out and say “I didn’t know you have…you look fine to me.” Hmmm…am I supposed to walk around sporting an IV as my accessory?

  7. When I have a problem I always take it out and tell to my friends or whoever about it. In this way by sharing with others it feels less of a problem and also some people can give me good advice or offer me a different point of view or a solution that I couldn’t see. This is why I hate the conventional greeting form: “How are you?” to which people mechanically reply whether it’s true or not: “Very well thank you” If people have problems and don’t tell me anything about them then there is nothing that I can do about it. As for complaining about my problems yes I always do and a lot but then I immediately think that there are people with bigger problems than mine and that is a sort of a positive reality check.

  8. I think the same way when a driver cuts me off or even going way too fast. My first instinct is to say “What are they doing????” But then I think, maybe they just got terrible news or just terminated from their job, etc. Maybe not, but I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. I try to just take a deep breath and move on. You never really know what people are going through. Great reminder, thanks Danny. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the timely reminder, Danny. I hope you find some solace in this blogosphere as I do. My illness is mental so I tend not to broadcast it since most people will react the same way and tell me to make like curtains. The pain you feel must leave you wanting to cry some, if not all, the time. Hang in there though since a cure may just be round the corner, and if it isn’t you obviously still have enough skillset left to write such wonderful posts. We are all here if you need to chat just remember we don’t judge you for the disease you have but the person you still are.

  10. Some people with chronic illnesses are well enough to create an illusion of wellness that makes our pain and the impact of that pain on our lives invisible.

    A survivor with a chronic illness creates an illusion of wellness and lives in the dialectic
    of its success.

      1. Here’s what you change: the lives of people who can’t hide it, who feel stigma or shame. and who also suffer in silence.

        A good day for me is when someone writes me and says that my blog made them feel a little better about themselves.

        That said, all if us deal with pain differently and our choices are always worthy of respect.

      2. That is what my charity work for the National MS Society is for. I’m referring to the types of people who whine and complain incessantly. I have a relative who is such a drag to be around because there is always something. For me, it would wear me down to talk about MS every day. That’s just not my identity.

      3. It’s hard.

        I see people who are less able to hide their illness than I am.

        Or people who don’t seem to have the emotional resources that I have.

        When I look at someone who is mentally ill and homeless I sometimes feel guilty because with all of the confusion and pain of life with DID I can still do things that give life meaning.

        People who don’t seem to be trying frighten me which then becomes anger because the line between sick and sicker is so thin and I am so afraid of crossing it.

      4. I don’t view it as “hiding their illness.” I think it has to do with self-awareness. And beginning the mental illness takes the conversation down a completely different rode. I’m specifically speaking about physical illnesses. I learned a long time ago that when it comes to mental illness, I am in no way trained to speak about it.

      5. I see all chronic illness as having similarities, especially after I began to read the blogs of people with chronic physical illnesses.

        I see similarities in people’s struggles to come to terms with being with different degrees of acceptance.

        It takes time and one is always learning.

        I don’t have perfect acceptance and can only speak with authority about my experience.

        So it’s not my intention to speak for you and if I’m coming across that way I apologize.

  11. A beautiful post with a wonderful reminder even to those of us with invisible illnesses and two jobs- there is always room for kindness and compassion. Thank you, Danny. 🙂

  12. You brought up some really good points here. Although I work hard on myself to not judge I still do in a way you just described. I guess it’s just normal for all of us to do so and hard to get out of the habit. In a way it’s also a defense mechanism. There is a fine line between following your gut feeling, listening to your instincts and becoming judgmental. In a way our instincts judge, you know. They set off the alarm and then we go from there… So how can we get it under control? I understand that the “judging” your talking about might be far from what I just mentioned but this question just came up and I wonder what you think of it? How do we deal with following our instincts without judging?

  13. Excellent point, we are quick to judge, a little empathy goes a long way and always be the first to smile when you catch someones eye. They don’t always smile back (some seem quite affronted actually), but it takes nothing from you to do it.

    1. Empathy is such a powerful word. There are good people still left in this world, but it is easy to lose site of that when so much negative news comes our way.

  14. I think the reality you create is that you’re a caring, aware co-passenger in this world. I’ve only been here a few times, but I know enough to recognize you as a compassionate thinker who happens to have MS, not a guy with MS who happens to be a compassionate thinker.

  15. Great post, Danny! Today I was celebrating Christmas with my Hubby’s family. His recently widowed aunt was there. She wanted to know how I was doing and I asked how she and the kids were holding up. We both were really interested in the other’s answers; however, as you say, you listen, commiserate or encourage and then move on with life.

    The rest of the family really doesn’t “get” my pain and I have learned to accept that. I go to as many family functions as I can, and like tonight bow out as gracefully as I can when I am too tired and sore to focus on all the conversations going on around me. I only explain if someone asks outright what is wrong at that point in time and even then only briefly. It seems to be working!

  16. Great advice. I try to make a point to do this but I confess that some days it is easier than others. I think it is something that deep down I understand but when I am in a bad mood my mind just gets so clouded with annoyance and anger that even my thoughts are cranky. Definitely something to work on improving tho.

  17. When people ask me How are you? I answer Fine and leave it with that. Sometimes I answer Do you want the short or long version. They always answer The short version. Then I answer Fine. They are happy with that, but then they know that maybe the answer could have been different if they have asked for the long version. I gave them possibility to hear the long version which could have been a endless complaint and I spared them that by giving the short version. We all have our issues to deal with and I often choose to not share complaints with people I know have own fights to fight. But the silence is often interpreted as oh, you have no problems in life at all. Weird assumption come to think of it. Is there really someone with no problems at all? I never heard of such person. Great post!

  18. As someone who lives with chronic pain, i can say that there are three reasons why i often don’t mention it when someone asks how i am.
    1. I don’t want it to be the topic of conversation.
    2. Internally, i am trying not to think about it.
    3. That part of how i am isn’t expected to change.
    So i prefer to answer in terms of what i’ve been doing or how positive my mental state is.

    1. KATHERINE!!!! So awesome so have you back. I agree with you on all your points. For me mostly it is I don’t want to talk about MS. lol Others might want to but it’s not like it is on my mind 24/7. I am more than my MS.

  19. There’s this lecturer at my workplace who asks “How are you?” whenever we meet. I usually tell him “I’m okay” to indicate that something’s not that great in my life at the moment, yet not to the extend of being bad. We then proceed to discuss further of what’s actually going on in my life. Not many makes me comfortable enough to confide in, but he has the aura of being someone who’s seen and experienced the world. It’s comforting that there’s someone out there who still cares.

    1. It is good you have someone you can confide. I find it interesting that human nature is to hide behind the illusion and not reveal the truth. And this can lead to some people trying to handle problems internally which brings up a whole new set of problems.

      1. That is because we all want to seem perfect. It’s not in our nature to reveal the ugly side of things. And things seem to be worsen with the existence of social media.

      2. Yes. And then the interesting thing is we try to portray this image to everyone, meanwhile everyone else is doing the same thing. We are all pretending to some degree.

      3. Just posted a new blogpost regarding this issue. Do have a look if you’re interested. I’m just sad at how things are, but it’s human instinct. What can I say?

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