Chronic illness has complicated physical, emotional, and spiritual components. Living with any type of chronic pain condition can be like walking a tightrope with while balancing a stack of breakable plates at the end of a dowel. In other words, it’s tough. The insulting things we hear people say to us in regards to our pain is enough to knock those plates off, send them crashing to the floor and us along with them.
- “It’s All in Your Head”
Oh, this is a fun one. No, not really but it’s so incredibly common. If I had a dollar for every time I heard this insulting statement about my chronic illness, I’d be a wealthy woman. Look, if you have your health, if you wake up every single day with no pain, no brain fog, and no anxiety, you are so blessed! It’s a wonderful thing that you’ve never experienced anything worse than a head cold or a splinter.
However, the people around you who struggle with chronic illness would do just about anything to be in your shoes. Trust us; it’s not in our heads. You just can’t identify because you have no frame of reference for what we go through everyday. Without it, it can be very difficult to understand. This is where faith and trust come in.
If you have a friend struggling with any type of chronic illness, spend time listening to them. Resist the urge to dismiss the problem because you can’t understand it or it’s just too difficult to deal with. Everybody needs support now and again but those with chronic pain need it even more.
- “It’s Not That Bad”
Unless your friend or family member has a known habit of extreme exaggeration, it really is that bad. Depending on the autoimmune disease or chronic pain condition the person is suffering from, symptoms can change weekly, daily or even from moment to moment. It may not be “that bad” on Thursday but it will be unbearable on Sunday.
We have absolutely no reason to want to hobble about the house or double over in stomach pain other than the fact that we are actually in that much pain. Again, it’s all about validation. How would you feel if you accidentally sliced open a finger in the kitchen and your spouse or child waved a hand dismissively and said, “Oh, it’s not that bad” while you bled out on the floor?
- “You’re a Hypochondriac”
This is, hands down, the worst one in my opinion. Yes, there are some people out there who genuinely have an anxiety disorder about their health and this condition is called hypochondria but it’s much rarer than you think. Since millions of people suffer from chronic illness, chances are, the person you’re questioning is genuinely sick.
Telling them they’re searching for reasons to be sick and randomly diagnosing themselves is one of the most insulting things you can tell them. Do they look their symptoms up online a lot? That doesn’t mean they’re a hypochondriac, it means the conventional medical community has failed them and they’re striking out on their own to get the answers, validation, and support they aren’t getting from doctors…or you.
- “You’re Too Young to Be Sick”
Not realizing I have Asperger’s syndrome was a serious hindrance for me until I reached my mid-twenties and learned how to pay attention and mimic neurotypical behavior. Nothing told me that I should hide my health problems because people would get the idea I was playing for sympathy. My brain just doesn’t work that way.
I thought nothing of being honest about my stomach pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, or the hypermobility in my left hip that made me limp even though I was only 20 years old.
When they told me I was “too young to be sick”, I couldn’t comprehend the meaning. Was I supposed to just jump up and magically get better because this nugget of wisdom had been imparted to me? I don’t know.
Nobody is ever too young to be sick.
Some babies are born sick and die before they ever learn to walk or talk and it’s a horrible tragedy. However, I bet you dollars to donuts that not one person (unless they were on drugs) has ever walked up to a bed-ridden young cancer patient hooked up to IV tubes and oxygen and said offhandedly, “Oh, you’re too young to be sick.”
- “You Don’t Look Sick”
This is another of the more common insulting things people with chronic illness hear.
Autoimmune disease, chronic pain syndrome, and mental illness are what are commonly referred to as invisible illnesses. There’s no wheelchair, helmet, cast or sling that sends a clear social message that this is a person living with pain or injury.
It can be very difficult for the friend, co-worker or caregiver to forget that the person in question is going through a deep and sometimes traumatizing struggle on the inside. People with chronic illness also learn early on to put on a brave face. Women cover up those dark circles with make-up and learn how to smile through the tears. After all, most people living with chronic illness have to work, run errands, and take care of children or pets.
Just because we’re not curled up in pain in the middle of the bed sobbing doesn’t mean we don’t want to be. It’s there, trust us. We’re just so used to staying strong that it’s automatic. We’re using it to protect you and keep ourselves safe at the same time. That’s why we don’t always “look sick”. Plus, remember, we have our good days and our bad days.
I should point out that, yes, there are people out there who do claim to be in pain in order to play for sympathy. It was something I had to learn the hard way because I think all people are like me; genuine and truthful. Not so. Even though I don’t really understand it, there are people out there who aren’t really in pain and just use the claim to swindle others or obtain narcotics to feed addiction.
I think one of the best ways to tell if somebody is truly suffering or making it up for attention is offering genuine solutions to their problem. I’ve done this. Before I started this website, I used to give advice about diet, herbs, and alternative treatments to everyone who told me they were in pain. The ones who took my advice are in less pain now, the ones who didn’t are still complaining and maybe they like to. I don’t know.
Some what I’ve said here might sound a bit harsher than what you’re used to reading from me but I’m trying to prove a point and make connections for people who have no idea what it’s like to suffer. I hope it makes a bit more sense and the next time you hang out with that friend or family member, you’ll do the best you can to listen, be sympathetic, and understanding, even if you don’t completely “get it”.
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