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The Importance of Being Honest With Your Loved Ones About How You Feel

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Having studied Anthropology for years, something has always stuck with me: “Humans are social creatures.” This always made me laugh as someone with social anxiety who prefers having her nose in a book to being in a club or on a team. I choose to be on my own. I am in my personality fiercely independent. I will not ask for help if I can avoid it at any cost, and this is something that has cost me dearly with chronic illness. Asking for and accepting help and support when you are chronically ill becomes just as difficult as it is to try to give help and support to someone you love with a chronic illness.

The sad truth is chronic illness is just that: chronic. It is not something that lasts a week, gets better and goes away. It can go into remission and reappear, but it is often something that is around for months or years at a time. So when you are asked how you are feeling and you have no good news to report, what do you say? Do you say you are better, you are fine, or do you tell them the truth? That you are in terrible pain, that you are struggling, but that you are fighting it to be there because you want to?


Well, here is my experience. When you lie and say you feel better, they may get frustrated that you can’t do more because they think you are feeling better than you are. If you say fine, well, there is really no way to respond to that other than “Oh, that is good.” Then there is the truth. The truth in these cases is rough. However, the truth can be a positive thing, and when you focus on the positive, it will not only help you but it will help your friends and family support you and maybe prevent the illness from isolating you completely.

Now when I say it can be positive, I am not talking about spinning, marketing or any other way of “fudging” the truth to make it sound better than it is. I am talking about focusing on the reason you are fighting your illness. When you go to a family event, for example. I went to my cousin’s dance recital a few weeks ago. She is my baby and I was on my 15th day of migraines and had had a cervical biopsy the day before. Now, there are few people in this world that rival how important that 10-year-old is to me and I never like to disappoint her. So I went, stood in line in the sun for an hour and a half, then spent two hours in an auditorium chair.

Needless to say I was not feeling fantastic by the end of it and I was short with my aunt and my cousin – which yes, I regret, but what I see and what I appreciate is that they know it is because I am struggling. I am fighting to be there and watch my amazing baby cousin dance five numbers and be there to support her. They support me by asking me how I am, but also by continuing to invite me when I have to turn them down or cancel last minute more often than not. Also, they support me by forgiving my short temper when I am fighting to be present and there through the pain and the fatigue. This is the importance of being honest.

My friends, family and I learned this the hard way. I’ve lost many friends who think I am flaking out on them or I do not want to be there. I tell them I am not feeling well or I cannot handle something. Regrettably, yes, there are times this means letting them down, like missing my step-sister’s pinning ceremony for her radiology technician program, but they know I want to be there and that I fight as hard as I can to make it.

Unfortunately, chronic illness does not only affect the chronically ill person. It affects friends, family, coworkers and peers. I have missed hanging out at the bar, at the beach, pretty much anywhere. I have missed birthdays and graduations, I have missed work and have not been able to finish planograms, I have missed assignments and have not been my best for presentations. I have let people down and I have had to learn to forgive myself for that.

It kills the perfectionist in me a little each time, but I have also gained so much from learning to let people support me and being honest with them. The beautiful thing about honesty is if you prepare people and let them know how much you want to be there and how much you care but also what you are fighting, you won’t disappoint them. The ones that truly care about you and not just themselves will understand and will know that some days you just can’t fight it, but that does not mean you do not love them – it just means that on that day you need to rest and they can support you by understanding and continuing to invite you, despite the fact that you may have to cancel last minute or you may be a little grumpy from fighting through pain.

The best thing to the remember is to be open, honest and positive. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean tell everyone everything and always smile, but be open with people. Let them in and support them as they support you. Be honest – if you do not let them know how you are feeling they may assume you just do not care about them when in reality you are fighting a battle they just can’t see and maybe do not really understand.

Lastly, be positive. I am sure you have seen some posts talking about how having a positive attitude is the solution to everything, and while it may help, that isn’t the “positive” I am referring to. When asked how you are, be honest. Tell them you aren’t feeling well but let them know the good stuff too – that it is worth the struggle to be there to watch your amazing baby cousin dance, or to see your step-sister get her pin for finishing radiology tech school.

No one wants to be around someone who only focuses on the negative, and honestly, when you are chronically ill, sometimes it is hard not to. But try and let people know they are worth fighting for, and they will continue to stand by you even when you can never tell them you are feeling better.

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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem.

Originally published: June 23, 2017
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