The Problem With Telling Me My Illnesses Are 'All in My Head'

“It’s all in your head,” people tell me, pushing this notion that if I just “stay positive,” all of my challenges will evaporate and I’ll be happy. While I appreciate the sentiment, illnesses do not work that way, mental or physical. If it were so simple, why would I choose this? Positive attitudes are important, yes, but they are not a cure all. I can’t smile the pain away. I would be smiling incessantly if this were the case, but alas, it is not.


There are many days my primary focus is just keeping my head above water. There’s no time to recite a mantra that is supposed to help me feel better; there’s just trying to find enough oxygen among the waves to keep me alive. Not to mention, telling me my pain is “all in my head” invalidates my experiences and feelings. It is a biting, hurtful phrase to hear because for me? This is all-consuming and as real as it can get.

Additionally, yes, some of it is in my head. That does not make it any less real. Even if parts of my illnesses do indeed take place “in my head,” they’re still real. You wouldn’t tell a cancer patient, “It’s all in your body, just get over it!” The same compassion and at least an attempt at understanding should be granted to anyone who is ill.

I do not expect anyone who doesn’t endure this to fully grasp it. I only ask that if you’re a part of my life, you treat my challenges like they matter. Because I would do the same for you. I get migraines frequently, but I wouldn’t belittle you for having a headache just because it’s perhaps not as severe. A headache sucks and so does a migraine.

This is not to insinuate dwelling on an issue will help either, it’s merely to express the importance of validating a person’s struggles. Not everyone will understand or even try to, and those are not the type of people anyone wants in their life, healthy or not.

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

Thinkstock photo via amoklv.

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

Related to Chronic Illness

Woman in wheelchair indoors.

How I'm Working Towards Acceptance of My Chronic Illness and Mobility Aids

I talk about my disabilities a lot; it’s hard not to when they affect every second of your life. Today, I’m going to zone in on something I struggle hugely with: self-image. You see, being sick with invisible illness can lead to a very big hit to your self-esteem. To the outside world, you don’t [...]
32 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because of Chronic Illness

32 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because of Chronic Illness

If you live with a chronic illness, you may find yourself adopting certain routines or behaviors that help you manage your symptoms. Some things might be obvious, like taking your medication, but other habits are more subtle. A casual acquaintance may not recognize that your actions and decisions are all-too-often based upon what’s best for you and your health. To better understand the ways [...]
An illustration of an elephant and dog, sitting on a bench, looking at a wall or rain.

When You're Ill and Your Friend Isn't in Your Support System

We expect that the people closest to us will be supportive if we ever need them. Because they love us. That’s part of loving someone, isn’t it? I think it should be part of loving someone, but, my experience tells me otherwise. My experience tells me life is never that simple. And people don’t live by [...]
Pensive woman sitting on beach hugging her knees and looking into the distance with hope.

When We Stop Comparing Our Lives With Chronic Illness to Others

Why is it that we feel this innate need to compare, to compete with everyone around us? I am better than you because… My life is worse than yours because… My job makes me more important than you because… My health is worse than yours…. You have no idea what I’m going through because… Why [...]