What Not to Say to the Chronically Ill: It’s a Trap!

Every other day I swear I read an article or a blog post that tries to guide the healthy folks among us through the minefield of what is and is not proper to say to a chronically ill person. I know their intentions are good, and I am not here to say whether they are right or wrong. It is all quite subjective anyway, and that is not my place. In my opinion, however, it is all a gigantic trap just waiting to catch folks. It’s impossible for a regular person to be precisely politically correct when I, a chronically ill woman, cannot keep up with what is and is not acceptable.

So I’m here now to give my two cents, or maybe just one cent, on a few common “controversial” phrases and how I handle them.

“But you don’t look sick” depends on who is saying it and why. There is a major difference between a doctor who is blowing off my latest symptoms and my best friend who is trying to cheer me up. The former falls into a category of deniers, who think you must look a certain way in order to feel like crap. That is where the term “invisible illness” comes into play. The latter is a compliment, one I am glad to take, because to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to look as badly as I feel. I would scare small children and adults alike!

Another phrase that can be frustrating to some is “feel better.” The argument as I have heard it is that we are not going to ever feel much better; our illnesses are lifelong. But for me, it is okay for folks to say that, because I know they care when they do. I am not going to be that person who tells people not to say something, but I would like to say there are other things that work better. I really am not likely to ever feel well. If my back improves, my stomach will end up getting worse. If my stomach issues temporarily resolve, my migraines are going to come back. It is a revolving door of symptoms that will never go away. I have accepted that, for the most part. Those closest to me need to as well.

Finally, one I get more than I should is, “When is your baby due?” In a perfect world, this would never happen, because we all know you never, ever assume a woman is pregnant. I used to think shaming people was the best response, like I could teach them a life lesson. But that served only to make everyone feel uncomfortable and awkward, and that’s really not my personality. I take steroids for life, and honestly, I do look pregnant. I finally started answering with a date and, “But we’re asking for Target giftcards.” I figure this way, I can just spend their money and drown my sorrows in some retail therapy. So far nobody has bought me one, but I’m hopeful.

In the end, I think we should all take a deep breath and be a little more tolerant and accepting, and look at the intent behind the words. If a person truly means well, smile and be grateful they took the time to care. Otherwise, I’m afraid we will put so many conditions on what they should and should not say, they will be afraid to say anything. My life is already too isolated with this illness; I don’t want to push anyone else away.

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