Today I thought I would try and create a guide for what not to say to people with chronic illness, and suggestions for what to say instead. I think this is important because a lot of the time people don’t mean to be offensive. They simply don’t know what to say. Not all of these will be universal of course, but these are just a few examples I personally relate to and have seen others with chronic illness complain about. These suggestions might also help those of you with chronic illness to gently remind those around you that their words can sometimes hurt, and give you alternatives to suggest to them.
Don’t Say… You don’t look sick/ You seem fine to me, etc.
This one is hands down one of the most common I’ve seen online, so I know I’m not alone in HATING this phrase. I’m sure this is usually not meant to be offensive. Perhaps you’re trying to compliment the person to lift their spirits, or even to applaud the person on their coping skills. But I know for me personally, it just makes me feel like people don’t believe I’m actually sick. Living with an invisible illness, we are already subjected to people not believing us, or acknowledging that we might need a little extra help. We especially don’t need our loved ones reinforcing the stereotype that we are faking sick. What does “sick” look like anyway?!
Say Instead… How are you feeling today?
You want to reinforce that you recognize that each day is different, and you’re showing that you care enough to ask how we are doing.
Don’t Say… Well I’m sick/injured too, and I can do x, y, and z no problem!
There is never a problem with complaining when you have a chronic illness. Just because you friend also has health problems, that doesn’t minimize yours. However, comparing or minimizing your friend’s illness is NOT ok. I had friends in college (that I clearly am no longer friends with) who felt like I wasn’t coping well enough because I wouldn’t always go to social events that they would go to, and that they could handle way more than I could with their illness. I felt so small and weak, and I really internalized their comments. We should never be made to feel that way. People with chronic illnesses are warriors, and we need to support each other instead of bringing each other down, or comparing our coping skills.
Say Instead… I find x is really helpful when I am having a bad health day. Is there any way I can help lighten your load?
If you are a truly caring person (which I’m sure you are), then all you really want is for your friend to be able to do everything you can do. We all feel offended every now and then if a friend cancels on us. Instead, try and accommodate them by offering to drive them somewhere, run an errand for them, or even just politely accept their cancellation when they are running on empty and need a night to themselves, and don’t take it personally.
Don’t Say… Have you tried *insert generic migraine cure here*?
I appreciate that you’re trying to help, I really do. But if curing migraines was as easy as sticking our feet in cold water, getting a daith piercing, or doing yoga, what would we all be complaining about? Currently, there is no migraine cure. And chances are, anyone with chronic migraine has seen that same Facebook ad you’re referencing, tried the treatment, and had no success. Also, hearing someone remind us for the 637th time that not only is there not actually a cure to this debilitating disease, but that people think things as simple as drinking a glass of cold salt water (insert large eye roll here) can be frustrating, and mildly offensive.
Say Instead… How are your migraine treatments working lately? Do you have your eye on any new treatments or medications?
Half the time a lot of us feel so isolated or forgotten about. Simply asking us about something like how our treatment is going can go a long way to making us feel heard. A question like this shows that you really care about our well-being.
I hope that this gave you some suggestions as far as talking to people with chronic pain, or helping your loved ones know what to say! Send them this article for a subtle nudge if you’re feeling extra bold! I also hope that this post did not come off as condescending at all- I’m just trying to bridge the gap in understanding between those with, and those without chronic illness. Have a pain-free day!
Here’s just a few more to leave you with!