When You're Chronically Ill and Your Healthy Friends Complain About Getting Sick
In honor of September being Pain Awareness Month, here’s an article for those with chronic pain and chronic illness.
We, as a society, complain. A lot. We forget that the purpose of such conversations should not be to simply rant and get things off our chests (though sometimes that’s necessary and acceptable, but not as often as we’d like to think), but to figure out solutions. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when someone asks for my advice, but only as a veiled way to begin venting.
If you’re a chronically ill person, you’re used to feeling on the verge of terrible (or over it) a significant amount of your life. So, when someone starts complaining about their health that is rather good 90 percent of the time, it’s easy to snub them, whether they do or don’t know you have chronic illness. They might think that because of your illness, you’ll be more prone to sympathize with them. In some regards, yes, this is true. But in a lot of ways, it’s definitely the opposite.
It used to bother me when people would complain about having a cold when I was younger and dealing with chronic sinusitis that got so bad it eventually led to surgery. Now I struggle with keeping it together when people complain about having a headache, being someone who lives with new-onset daily chronic migraine. It’s even worse when the complaint is a hangover (You did this to yourself! I want to scream. You could’ve prevented this!).
What people don’t realize is their complaints are not making me feel less alone, but rather, even more so. It makes me feel more alone because it reminds me that normal people don’t have headaches every day – that’s just a me problem. It reminds me what it is like to have the luxury of complaining about something when you know it’s going to be relieved soon enough. I feel guilty complaining about my headaches because of their frequency and because anything people suggest I try to do for them is not what’s going to help me. So, I do my best to keep my downer monologue to a minimum.
It’s easy to get frustrated with these people. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) But it’s our responsibility as More-Than-Sick People to show them a little grace. We were dealt our chronically ill cards for one reason or another and they weren’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve received the “better” hand, per se. It just means you have more experience dealing with being sick. For them, this is an unusual annoyance. Sometimes they might even be scared, even if there’s no real reason to be.
Next time someone complains to you about their cold or their headache or their stomach flu, be gentle with them. Be kind. Be there for them. But also use that moment to let them know about your own sickness you deal with every day. That’s how empathy is built and God knows we, the chronically ill, can use as much of it as we can get.
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Thinkstock photo via JackF.