When I Thought I Could Open Up to a Relative Who Also Has a Chronic Illness


A lot of my family members still don’t know that I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It’s never really come up, and I don’t know how to bring it up spontaneously. Instead, I just don’t talk about it.

One of my cousins also has a chronic illness: fibromyalgia. While our diseases are different, I figured she would understand what it’s like to not always be in control of what happens to your body. For that reason, I thought that opening up to her would easy. I was hoping that after I came clean, we could build a support system for each other.

I was wrong.

I actually wish I hadn’t told her at all, and now I will be sure to never talk about it around her again.

The first time I mentioned it to her was when I stopped by her house on my way to the endocrinologist’s office. It was a brief conversation, and I downplayed it a bit because I didn’t really want to go into detail at the time.

The second time I was responding to her son who asked me why I was always cold. I told him I have a disease that causes my immune system to attack my thyroid gland and pointed to my neck to show him where it was. My cousin then said, “Well, my fibromyalgia attacks my nerves.”

We’ve talked about it openly before, so I guess she just wanted to be a part of the conversation. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time, so I just let it go.

Then there was the third time.

I can’t remember the exact details of our conversation, but I was still struggling with how to talk about Hashimoto’s with her. I thought the best way would be to bring it up casually and ease into the conversation. So when she mentioned that I had been really tired the other day, I responded: “It’s a symptom of the thyroid disease.”

I wasn’t prepared for what she would say next.

Instead of asking more about it or even just letting it go, she said, “Well, I probably have that, too, and you don’t have fibromyalgia on top of it.”

I couldn’t believe it. The last thing I expected (or needed) from the person I just opened up to was for her to imply my symptoms didn’t matter and my disease wasn’t “as bad” as hers.

Also, there are multiple types of thyroid diseases. She has never been diagnosed with one or even discussed it with her doctor for that matter. The assumption that she has what I have literally came out of nowhere. I only wanted someone to talk to.

After that day, I’ve stayed silent. I don’t talk about the symptoms. I don’t mention my upcoming endocrinology appointment. I keep it to myself and pretend my illness doesn’t exist.

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