What Not to Say to Chronically Ill

As I struggle today with a migraine that makes my left eye hurt when I move it, I think about something someone recently said to me.  ‘You are lazy. That’s why you don’t work.’  Thankfully, a few people who know my condition better rushed to support me.  I am lazy when it comes to house cleaning. I am lazy-ish when it comes to exercise, but when it comes to my job and working no one would call me lazy.  Since I have stopped working I have been selling educational products.  I now make a profit of about $100 a month which seeing I have no expenses really – is quite nice.  The day of my balloon catheter as soon as I could sit up, I was working. I am not even exaggerating.  I LOVE teaching.

So I’ve decided to compile a list of things you shouldn’t say to chronically Ill.

1. “You are lazy!”
If you are judging them solely on how many things they got checked off on a To Do List, compared to someone that is healthy than that’s like watching a man who is disabled run against someone who isn’t and saying the disabled man is slow.  People with chronic illnesses don’t choose not to work because they are lazy but because they can’t – due to illness or maintaining health. When I was working, I felt stressed trying to make doctor’s appointments and work to the point it was taking a toll on my health.

2. “It’s not that bad.”
How do you know?  Have you felt the pain? Have you walked in that person’s shoes?  How would you feel if someone said that about some pain in your life?  It shows a lack of empathy.

3. “I know someone who had it worse than you and they could do what you can’t.”
Don’t compare one person’s pain to another.  You aren’t a doctor.  And even doctors get it wrong sometimes.  Also there may be other factors physical or emotional complicating an illness.

4. “You should lose weight.” “You should drink more water” “You should go to bed earlier.”
If you aren’t the person’s doctor, you shouldn’t be telling them what to do.  Also sleeping more, drink more water and losing weight may help but they won’t eradicate the illness.  There illness is real.  And likely you don’t know a lot about it.  If you want to help, read about it.

5. “Your life is so easy. You don’t have to work.”
I have heard this and rarely has the intention been bad.  If by easy you mean, visiting the ER FIVE times in three months, dealing with a headache, having to be on a strict diet or my gut explodes or being too tired to see friends most days – then yes – my life is really easy.

6. “Your still in pain?” “Why don’t you ever feel good?”
Chronic means ALL THE TIME.  I wish that I could wake up one day and know that my illness is behind me.  That’d be quite wonderful, but sadly that’s not the case. I have good days and I have bad days.

7. “You’re too young to feel that bad.”
I often sing a Garth Brooks line to myself, “Much too young to feel this damn old.” to myself.  I agree.  I am too young to feel this sick, but that sadly doesn’t change my situation. I am sick!

8. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
Well, while i am honored that God has so much faith in me to handle this, I wish he didn’t.

9. “You need to get right with God.”
That’s a bunch of crap! I believe in God, but this is a broken world and bad things happen.  One of those bad things is my illness.

10. “It’s all in your head,”
This is probably the worst thing to say. It’s like telling the person flat our that they are a liar.  Also, it messes with the person’s head and delays medical care that they may need.

So what CAN you say: (the top was feeling much to snarky so needed a positive turn)

1, “You look good, but how are you really feeling?”
You are complimenting us (even if we don’t believe it) and also acknowledging that looks don’t always indicate how a person is doing.  For once, we’d like someone too look beyond our facade.

2. “I’m going out. Do you need anything?”
While it may be easy for someone who is healthy to run to the store, it’s not so easy for the chronically ill.  It could save them not just time but a lot of stress and anxiety and maybe even some pain.

3. “It must be hard to be sick and in pain all the time. ”
It shows understanding.  We don’t feel judged either.

4. “Do we need to stop visiting so you can rest?”
Personally, I would feel like I was dying to hear this but at the same time there is a great thing about this.  My stomach might be kicking up and I’m waiting for you to leave, but I’m not going to tell you that.  It allows me to excuse myself.  Sometimes – especially if S is around – I’d love to be able to run to the bathroom and come back as many times as I’d like.

5. “Don’t feel bad if you have to cancel plans.”
My best friend, M. is so patient and understanding when I say I will visit and I can’t.  She makes me feel better about the fact that I’m not always up for visiting.

6. “Would you like to hear about me?”
I would love to know what is going on in your life. These four walls get boring some times and why wouldn’t I want to hear about you. You are my friend.

7. “I hope you are as well as possible.”
This acknowledges that fact that I have a chronic illness while still wishing me well.


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