4 Phrases About My Illness That Help Me More Than ‘It Could Be Worse’


Somewhere along the way, a truly frustrating and seemingly dismissive phrase has snuck itself into our niceties and condolences. I understand the problem to some extent. If you’re not sure what to say to a friend who is chronically ill or struggling with mental illness, you might rack your brain and nothing seems appropriate. But you want to say something. I get that; I really do. But I think there are better options than telling someone, “It could be worse,” in response to their pain.

Don’t get me wrong — if that’s something you tell yourself to deal with your own personal crises or pain, I’m not suggesting you change that. However, among my chronically ill friends, I keep seeing people hurt or confused by the same phrase, so I want to shed some light on why it might not be the best commiseration one can choose.

To me, this is the number one reason we need to remove “It could be worse” from our stockpile of phrases; it sounds dismissive. When you tell someone this, it can feel to the other person like their pain is not enough to warrant your concern — that they aren’t allowed to feel bad because their pain could be worse than it is. I truly believe that we, as fellow humans, can do better than that.

I have an admitted flare for the dramatic. I tend to speak in hyperbole, and I make an effort to be aware of that extreme part of my personality. However, in spite of all my diva tendencies, I have never claimed to be at the absolute maximum of suffering. I don’t think any of us have. At no point have I said, “My suffering is officially worse than all human suffering.” So why would someone take the opportunity to tell me it could be worse? I know that. Trust me, at one point, life was better, so I know things can be worse.

Let’s imagine if you used the converse. Imagine a friend comes to you and says, “Oh my goodness! I just received wonderful test results! Let’s celebrate!” And you reply, “Well, it could be better. You could have wonderful test results and have won the lottery. This isn’t worth being excited about.”

You see, friendship and general empathy doesn’t exist in a world of comparisons. A friend shouldn’t tell others what is worth their time or someone else’s grief. Just be a friend. Comfort the hurting. Cry with the crying. Share cookies with the grieving.

To each and every person who has reached out to me and tried to comfort me as I’m dealing with illness, please know you are appreciated. If you said the “wrong” thing, I assure you, that was better than saying nothing. I am not trying to personally indict those who have said this phrase. But I’m trying to suggest that we can do better. Have I been guilty of saying this? Heck, yeah. Am I resolved to do better? Absolutely.

Here are some phrases that are certainly less hurtful and possibly more helpful for me:

1. I am so sorry.

2. Is there anything I can do to help?

3. I’m here for you if you need anything.

4. You’re not handling this alone.

Why do these phrases work for me? They acknowledge that the present situation stinks. They don’t minimize the pain someone else is feeling, and they convey some empathy.

Being a friend is active. It isn’t about saying the right words to quiet someone. It’s about being there, listening, loving, praying and hoping with your friend that life gets better. Let’s save all our judgments for reality TV and keep it away from our friends.

Peace, love and health, friends.

 Follow this journey on Crazy, Chronic Life

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by Rinky Dink Images


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Chronic Illness

The Guilt of Depending on Someone When You're Ill

The first time my illnesses made me dependent on another person, that person told me I was worthless. “She’s such a liability” and “she should really take better care of herself” were just a couple of comments that shaped the way I viewed some of my chronic illnesses years before I even had names for [...]
trail through foreset

When You're Not Sure Who You Are Because of Your Chronic Illness

Sure, I know who I am. I know where I live, that I have a degree in speech-language pathology and that I am a mother of two young boys. I realize I’m not a morning person and that I live for relaxing snow days. I also know that my favorite foods are peanut butter and [...]
woman sitting at table alone

6 Terminology Differences That Matter When It Comes to Chronic Illness

When talking with someone coping with chronic illness, you might find yourself trying to relate to their experiences. You’re probably coming from a kind and caring place and looking to sympathize, but you may not realize that when you say things like “Oh I know just how you feel! I was so exhausted after work [...]
Top view close up female hands typing on laptop on wooden table in cafe with cup of coffee and books with text 18 things people with chronic illness want to post on facebook but dont

18 Things People With Chronic Illness Want to Post on Facebook, but Don't

While many Facebook users dash off a status update about their latest vacation or check in at a restaurant without a second thought, people who live with chronic illnesses may be hesitant to share a post about what’s going on in their lives. As Mighty contributor Jennifer Steidl beautifully explained, for many chronically ill people, there’s [...]