Why Talking About Chronic Illness Shouldn't Be Taboo


Speak about your or your loved ones’ illness as often as you can. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Not talking about it doesn’t cure it. Sure, you may get tired of talking about it, especially if it’s not getting better. Sure, you may get frustrated, always giving the same answer when people ask how you’re doing or how they’re doing. You may even hope people stop asking.

Here’s the problem I see with not talking about it: you hold everything inside. This alone can cause anxiety, frustration or depression about the illness. Your family and your friends need to know they can discuss it as well. I think not discussing it can make it seem taboo to mention. This can put people on edge around you. They may be afraid they’ll say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question.

A chronic illness may be a big part of your life, but it does not define you.

You never know who else may be suffering too and need to talk about it. Talking about it may drive some people away from you. These people were not your true friends anyway. Chronic illness will filter out your friends, and those who truly care about you will still be there. They are the ones who will ask how you’re doing. They won’t get tired of hearing about it even if your answers never change.

Talking about your illness can be therapeutic. Putting your thoughts about it into words can be freeing. A chronic illness may touch every aspect of your life or your family’s life but it doesn’t change the fact that you are family and you are loved by that family. Invisible chronic illness is hard because no one can see how sick the person may be. Others can’t tell how much pain the person may be in. It’s up to them to let others know.

If you know someone with a chronic illness, ask them about it. Spend time listening to them or their family.

They do not suffer alone; the family is right there with them (read more about the loved ones of those with chronic illness on my blog). It is not uncommon to have lots of offers to help or people asking about it frequently in the beginning. After it has gone on for a while, people may forget and get busy with their own lives. They think the sick person is better if they haven’t heard anything in a while. It gets lonely. The offers for help get more infrequent or go away completely.

I’m not saying that the illness should be the topic of every conversation or that it should be brought up in every setting or the first thing you say when you meet someone. Seriously, if you said, “Hi, I’m Jane, I have…, it’s nice to meet you,” that would be a very awkward meeting. It also tends to lead to the feeling that your illness is who you are. Don’t let it define you, or your loved one, but don’t be afraid to talk about it. It can be freeing!

Are you a friend or family member of someone who is affected by a chronic illness? Do you encourage them to talk about it?

Do you have a chronic illness? If so, do you talk about it?

I would love to hear your experiences with discussing chronic illness.

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Thinkstock photo by Maria Kuznetsova


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