5 'Encouraging' Comments People With Health Challenges Don't Want to Hear

When people find out you have a chronic illness, a comment usually quickly follows. Most of these comments are meant to be either complimentary or encouraging, but that might not be how they come across. Below are some of these comments that most people with a chronic illness or disability do not like hearing, and alternatives to them that you might like to say instead. Remember, “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.”

1. “But you’re so young.”

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but an actual licensed doctor said this to me yesterday. How did I feel when she said this to me? Confused. This is someone who clearly should know that chronic illness doesn’t discriminate. Autoimmune diseases especially tend to come in bunches. Yes, it can definitely be devastating to be ailing in the prime of your life. But saying this to a person makes no sense, and also has no value.

Instead try: “I’m sorry you’re going through this at such a tender age.”

2. “But you’re so pretty.”

Believe it or not I’ve had many friends who have been told this. Since when does something so trivial as looks come into this? It’s as if because a person’s genes caused their face or body to be aesthetically pleasing to you, they are immune from all illness or from any injuries. Now, that would be nice, but it isn’t the case. And what does this say? That it’s fine if people who aren’t aesthetically pleasing to your eyes have a chronic illness or disability? And that it’s so much more upsetting when someone good-looking is sick? This may be meant as a compliment, but it is full of ignorance.

Instead try: Maybe just don’t say this one, or tell the person they’re pretty without relating it to their illness.

3. “But you don’t look sick.” 

Many illnesses are called “invisible” for a reason; you can’t see them! A person may look perfectly healthy, but be fighting something life-threatening. They also might be feeling completely awful but doing everything they can to look their best. Their face may be caked in makeup to hide their pallor and dark circles. They may be putting on a huge smile that isn’t quite genuine at the moment. They might have a port under their shirt that delivers life-saving medications. This may be surprising to hear, but many sick people do not look sick. This doesn’t mean they aren’t!

Instead try: “I know you’re probably not feeling well, but you look nice!”

4. “I wouldn’t be able to live with that.” 

*Cue the sarcasm* Well, that’s nice and very reassuring. This is another thing that might be said as a compliment to our strength, but also has another meaning. That meaning is that our lives must be miserable. No one likes living with an illness or disability. It’s definitely not a party. But not only can we adapt, we can thrive.

Instead try: “You seem like a pretty awesome person.”

5. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

This is actually meant to be reassuring, but can be so false, and can also make it feel like you’re trivializing the pain of the person you’re speaking to. Not every chronic illness has a great prognosis, and not everyone will be fine. This also may not be helpful to someone who is unsure of their prognosis and what tomorrow might hold for them. Apart from that, this comment completely undervalues the extent of one’s suffering. Don’t get me wrong — optimism is great, but there are far better things to say that tell the person you sympathize with what they’re going through and that you understand that it’s serious.

Instead try: “I hope you’ll be OK and will be sending good thoughts your way.”

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