What NOT to Say to Someone With a Chronic Illness

Who among us hasn’t put their foot in their mouth on occasion? Sickness and disability can make you feel uncomfortable and tongue tied. Here’s what you need to know about people who have a chronic illness: they’re people just like you. They don’t necessarily want to talk about their health every minute of the day and they don’t need anyone to remind them of it when they’re out trying to have a good time.

It’s highly likely that they’ve spent a great deal of time learning about their condition and how to cope with it, so unsolicited advice is probably not a good idea, especially if they’re like these gems:

At least it’s not…(whatever)

The implication here is that things could be worse…and they certainly could, but so what? Just because something could be worse doesn’t mean it’s not challenging or that a person can’t be having a hard time. Telling someone with type 1 diabetes that they’re fortunate they don’t have stage IV pancreatic cancer is not helpful.

Let’s put it this way: When you have the flu and you’re feeling like death warmed over, you probably don’t need anyone to tell you how fortunate you are not to have a hot poker sticking in your eye, too — you already know that, but you’re still sick. Comparing diseases is a bad idea.

Try this instead: “I’m not familiar with (whatever disease). If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear a little bit about it.” Or this: “I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I’m here for you.”

You just need to de-stress

Yes, don’t we all. If you’re alive, you’re going to have a certain amount of stress. Some we can eliminate, some we can learn to cope with and some we’re just stuck with. Stress can certainly affect your health. And having a chronic illness? Well, that’s stressful. What you don’t want to do is sound as though you’re blaming that person for creating their own illness. It’s cruel to imply that they are ill because they don’t know how to handle life.

If you have a friend who seems stressed, make a specific offer to help out, like making dinner, running an errand, babysitting, etc. Help ease a bit of that stress.


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