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The Danger of Saying 'I'm Sorry' to Your Friend With a Chronic Disease

It is incredibly disheartening when other people tell me they feel sorry for me. I grasp the concept that conversations about medical mantra can seem unsettling, confusing and downright repetitive, but that alone should not incline another to play the pity card. I find the pity card to be most debilitating to my prognosis and my attitude.

When I hear the words “I’m sorry,” I cannot help but question what the asking party is sorry for. Are they sorry for the hoops I had to jump through to receive a diagnosis? Are they sorry for the outlook on the rest of my life? Are they sorry for the ongoing medical treatment I will have to receive? Are they sorry for medications I take every day? I cannot pinpoint what is exactly meant by the two-word statement because there are different shadows of meaning tied to the phrase. That right there is the problem. The saying “I’m sorry” does not give an explanation, nor does it give a reason to why it is being said.

When I hear the words “I’m sorry,” the more I hear the recording of “nothing can be done” play in my ears. When I hear these words, I picture my chronic disease barricading my hope with iron rods. When these two words are pulled by the trigger of tongue, they are suspended in mid-air for my ears to capture.

When I hear the words “I’m sorry,” I associate the phrase with a downtrodden and meek expression. I picture a community of residents who are fluent in “sorry” speeches practicing their concerned faces. I sense the atmosphere becoming more negative as well as my spirit beginning to flicker.

When I hear the words “I’m sorry,” I tend to disengage in the conversation because I do not know how to respond. I can respond with “Thank you,” or “It’s all right,” but that sounds too rehearsed and put together.

I learned to decipher what I should not accept by examining what I tolerate. By examining what I tolerate, I can make conclusions about whether or not I should abide by it anymore. I do not need to tolerate the pity card or the overly sympathetic responses, nor do I need to accept them because both propel my recovery backwards. I need to start focusing on statements that will propel my prognosis forward and enhance my attitude.

I think this can start by people saying “I’m listening,” because this simple sentence allows me to unravel the mess of webs I’m in. This sentence is a welcome wavier that I want to sign my name on, because it is an opportunity to uncover parts of my diagnosis that I probably would not disclose if someone said “I’m sorry.”

The English language is a powerful art comprised of 26 letters that can morph into simplistic sentences, and can open the door of communication on chronic illnesses. My advice: Choose your words carefully, because they can either hinder the heart or they can act as a key to a conversation the chronic illness sufferer is longing to have.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.