The Mighty Logo

17 'Harmless' Comments That Hurt People With Chronic Fatigue

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

If your chronic illness causes you to have chronic fatigue, you might sometimes find it difficult to be heard and understood by others. You might mention your chronic fatigue to a friend or family member, only for them to respond back by saying, “I’m tired a lot like you too.” Or if you tell someone about what’s going on, they might suggest a lifestyle change that’s meant to help you, but comes off as a quick judgement instead.

Chronic fatigue is the feeling of constant tiredness and exhaustion that’s often debilitating. It can be a common symptom of a variety of chronic illnesses, including fibromyalgia and lupus. Chronic fatigue is not to be confused though with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. Though it has a similar name, chronic fatigue syndrome is a chronic illness with its own variety of symptoms while chronic fatigue can occur as part of a number of chronic illnesses.

A lot of the time, well-meaning friends and family members don’t even realize their comments about chronic fatigue can come off as harsh rather than kind. That’s why we asked our Mighty community what “harmless” comments actually hurt people who live with chronic fatigue. While the loved ones in your life might think they are helping or just offering insight, the small comments they make can have a negative impact. Hopefully this list can offer your loved ones some insight on how their words can affect someone who has chronic fatigue.

Here’s what our community had to say:

1. “You can power through it!”

The term “powering through” can be taken in many different ways. If you live with chronic illness and  experience chronic fatigue, the term might not mean to you what it means to other people. While some might think they’re just encouraging you to do more and giving you a mental boost, it hurts to be told to “power through” something if you physically just cannot.

It’s emotionally draining to hear, ‘What’s wrong with you? Pull yourself together.’ I’ve come to a place where I can no longer accept specialist doctors who don’t want to understand and learn about the deep exhaustion that is real. A few of them order me around as if I’ve got this illness that’s all in my head. Recently, a urologist said my fatigue is not his problem. He was uncaring and abrasive. Just drains me emotionally to put up with such unhealthy behavior. — Anna C.

‘Sometimes you just have to push through it,’ said by my son at my grandson’s birthday. I think that might be one of the most hurtful sentences only because it was said by him. I’m pretty thick skinned and I can usually keep it moving and not care what anyone else thinks. The medical community had already hurt me by failing to help me for 10 years, telling me that I was a liar and I wasn’t hurting, so I usually don’t mind, but it has always stuck with me. — mamajane

After being ill on and off for all of my life, one of the hardest things to hear are other people (normally my dad) saying, ‘she can do that’ about stuff I wish I could do, but no longer can. I then push myself to try and meet their expectations and inevitably end up suffering afterwards. — Ellie O.

2. “You’re too young to be tired all the time.”

Chronic conditions can affect people of all ages. There is no specific age requirement to live with chronic fatigue. It can absolutely affect younger generations. So when people who are older than you say you’re too young to feel the way you do, it comes off as though they believe your experience isn’t valid just because of your age. That’s not OK.

[People say] ‘But you’re only so young, you should be in the prime of your life!!’ — maddietx

Sometimes jokingly I’ll say, ‘I’m too old for this crap.’ (I’m 24 years old.) My aunt who knows full disclosure about my health made the comment, ‘Your life hasn’t even begun to get hard yet.’ — Maggie P.

3. “I know other people who have it worse than you.”

Comparing apples to oranges is never a good idea. Conditions affect people differently and there’s no need to compare. Beyond that, someone who lives with a chronic illness doesn’t need to be reminded that others have it worse than they do. It can make their experience and what they are going through feel less valid.

My pain doctor and rheumatologist just said [on my] last visit: ‘I see people come in here with cancer and they don’t have as much pain as you say you do.’ — Evelyn F.

‘Don’t worry at least it’s not a progressive illness. [It] could be worse. You could have cancer!’ Yeah it could be worse, but that doesn’t make my experiences any less valid. — meganolivialee

From a relative: ‘You don’t have it so bad. There are a lot of people worse off than you,’ because I was exhausted from making a couple of important phone calls. Don’t know if that remark was meant to give me perspective or shame me. — Kathryn B.

4. “You’re lucky you don’t have to work.”

Someone who is overwhelmed by work might be under the impression that someone else who is unable to work is living the dream. While it might seem like a constant vacation, not being able to work due to a chronic illness that causes chronic fatigue can be incredibly frustrating. There are financial concerns as well as emotional ones. So when someone assumes that not being able to work is a good thing, it can come off in a negative way.

[People say,] ‘You’re lucky you don’t have to work 9-5 with the rest of us.’ — blairwitchproject

Just last night, my in-laws are trying to get my mother-in-law to work again. She’s 9 years older than me and she wants the family to take care of her at 61. My sister in law said [to me], ‘It’s not like you; you can’t work.’ Somehow that hurt and she didn’t mean anything at all rude. She was sympathetic to my situation. — cctexan3

5. “How are you tired when you slept so much?”

Chronic fatigue is not the same as needing sleep. Someone who doesn’t experience chronic fatigue might be able to get over their tiredness with a good night’s rest. The same doesn’t always go for someone who has chronic fatigue. You can sleep for 10 hours or you can sleep for five and still wake up in the morning exhausted.

‘But you slept eight hours! How are you still tired?’ Or ‘You know if you sleep too much it can make you tired too. I wish it was that simple! Having MS, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue is like the trifecta of always fighting fatigue! I want nothing more than to wake up and feel fully rested and have the energy of a normal 30-something mother of one! — Jennifer T.

My doctor told me I’d feel more energetic if I went for more walks. I can barely walk up the stairs without being out of breath and walk everywhere whilst pushing a heavy baby in a buggy. I get plenty exercise, but my doctor’s ignorance is more acceptable and acknowledged than my exhaustion from my numerous chronic illnesses. — bigglesbish

I’ll be 38 this year and have had issues with chronic fatigue since I was 12, so I feel I’ve run the gamut of insensitive comments. I think one of my favorites is, ‘Maybe if you didn’t sleep so much, you wouldn’t be so tired. You know, there is such a thing as too much sleep.’ Ugh, y’know there is such a thing as shut the hell up.’ — h_lenn

6. “Just do a little at a time.”

When someone says to take it slow, that implies the person assumes you are capable of doing something that can be more than what you are actually capable of. A person might think they’re being helpful by offering a suggestion. But to someone with a chronic condition, it can feel as if that person instead is just telling you to do the impossible, and that’s frustrating.

Someone once said, ‘Mow the lawn a little at a time.’ The thing is, because of surgery I had, I can’t mow a lawn at all. The person knew this and it left me feeling reminded of what I can’t do and frustrated that some people will never understand that I want to be able to do these things I physically cannot. — Christina V.

7. “Take a shower. It’ll help.”

Showering is not always the easiest of tasks for someone who lives with chronic illness, especially when that chronic illness causes fatigue. A shower can lead someone with chronic fatigue to be even more tired after they’re done. Or, a shower within itself can be an exhausting task they can’t complete. So when a shower feels so out of reach, it can be hurtful for another person to just assume it could be your saving grace or your solution.

‘You’ll feel better after a shower. As if my chronic degenerative nerve disease is going to be fixed in the shower! — daepreston

Got to love when people tell you a shower will make you feel better! Actually, getting a shower takes almost all the energy I have. So, yeah. That’s not going to help. I have a degenerative bone disease in my wrist. There isn’t even a surgical fix available right now. But let me hop in the shower real quick. I’m sure that’ll help! — Kathleen L.

8. “I have kids, so I’m tired too.”

No one is going to say having kids is easy. That being said, telling someone they don’t understand what “real” fatigue feels like because they don’t have kids might make your experience of chronic illness feel like it has less value. Anyone can have chronic fatigue, regardless of their circumstances or what is going on in their life, including children.

‘Just wait until you have kids.’ Harmful on two levels because I don’t have to have kids to know what fatigue is and I’m never having kids specifically because of the mental and physical illnesses that cause all of that fatigue. — Jenna S.

9. “It’s probably just your diet.”

While diet is an important aspect for anyone’s life, many people who don’t experience chronic illness with chronic fatigue seem to think it’s a cure. While a change in diet can be helpful for some, saying adjusting what you eat can essentially get rid of your symptoms minimizes what you’re actually going through. It’s as if you’re being told it’s your fault you have chronic fatigue because your diet isn’t good enough.

I always get, ‘You should eat meat.’ I’m pescatarian, a dietary choice that cured my chronic spastic colon and IBS. I am careful to monitor my iron, B12 and vitamin D, which are common issues in meat-free diets. My chronic fatigue is caused by my thyroid disease and my chronic migraines, both of which are genetic, and I actually suffered long before giving up meat. Yet every family gathering becomes a personal attack where they all but force feed me steak. — hbk84

‘It’s your diet. You need to eat better to feel more energetic.’ Anytime the word ‘diet’ is used, I check out of the conversation immediately. While I understand what is trying to be said by the person, it creates a persecuting narrative on me. It makes me feel like it’s my fault that I am always fatigued, which is far from the truth! Eating well helps my illnesses, but it’s not a full cure-all. And because most people don’t understand invisible illnesses, they blame the victim of these illnesses. — Devin N.

‘I found a book that has all your symptoms and bought it for you. It tells how diet and supplements will make it go away.’ This was my boyfriend trying to be helpful. I wanted to say, ‘I’ve had this for over 20 years. Don’t you think I have tried everything?’ But instead I said ‘thank you.’ — my4wheels

10. “I wish I could nap like you!”

When you have chronic fatigue, sometimes you have to nap. It’s just how it can be. But while it might seem like a luxury to outsiders, many people with chronic fatigue would prefer to not have to nap and use that time to do other things like housework, socializing or relaxing. So when someone says they wish they could take a nap too, it can come off as hurtful and not very understanding of your circumstances.

‘Wish I could go take a nap, too!’ Said with the insinuation that they are too sensible and dependable for such nonsense and like I am going off for an indulgent, relaxing bit of ‘me time.’ I’d like them to try to live on what my body passes as ‘sleep’ for a week. I am constantly in pain, rarely sleep for more than two continuous hours (little to no restorative REM sleep), have apnea and sleep paralysis, and feel as tired and sore when I wake up from my ‘luxurious’ slumber as I did before I ‘indulged’ myself with a nap. Over half the time I fall asleep unintentionally, like my body is a wind-up toy that suddenly is done running. It really hurts to be doubted and dismissed by people who should support you the most. — blessed5be

11. “How can you be tired when you were fine yesterday?”

Chronic illnesses, including ones that have chronic fatigue as a symptom, can come with good days, bad days and everything in between. So yeah, while you might seem lively one day, your body might crash the next. Comparing your good days to your bad ones might not seem like a big deal, but it can come off as extremely hurtful. It can make you feel guilty for having a chronic condition in the first place.

‘Well if you were able to go somewhere yesterday then you must be feeling better, right?’ Not a single person in my family can accept that I had to save up my energy for two days in order to make it to that doctor appointment. And they certainly can’t believe that it will take me another three days to recover from the outing. I’ve been fighting exhaustion and severe pain because of my multiple chronic illnesses for over 14 years. You would think they would just accept it by now. — justpeachy3

‘How can you be exhausted? You rested yesterday.’ Or, ‘You could do X, Y and Z yesterday and you say you are too tired to do W today?’ — Laurel S.

12. “You’re only tired when you don’t want to do something.”

Chronic fatigue is frustrating and something that takes a lot of focus to manage. You might have to plan for big moments and save up your energy, sometimes for days in advance. You also might have to back out of smaller events because you just can’t do it. While someone might think you’re only tired when it’s convenient and you don’t want to do something, a comment such as this comes off as nothing but judgmental and assuming.

I think the ‘convenient’ comment is just about the worse thing people can say. How can people be so cruel? I honestly don’t get it! We don’t enjoy being sick because no one would! — Sarah S.

13. “I’m tired too. It’s not just you.”

A lot of people are tired, but chronic fatigue isn’t “just” being tired. It’s not necessarily fixed with some R&R or a few nights of eight-hour sleep. Chronic fatigue can make someone who lives with chronic fatigue feel the pressure to do what other people do, which often causes you to experience even more fatigue.

I’ve heard some form of this since I had juvenile arthritis with severe fatigue at age 12: ‘I don’t like to get up early either, but you have to, because of [school/work/family obligations/etc.].’ — John H.

‘Oh God. I have been so tired too lately.’ I am not ‘tired.’ My fatigue affects my body and/or my brain to varying degrees daily and can change hourly. When my fatigue is really bad, I can’t even sit up. Can’t do anything including watch TV, listen to music, read or talk. Yesterday I had to ask my husband to get me another spoon to eat my dinner with as the one I had was too heavy. My walker and wheelchair are not for show! — mona99627391

14. “You should wake up earlier.”

Being an early riser is easier said than done, especially if you live with chronic illness. Not only that, telling someone who has chronic fatigue that waking up early would benefit them might just make them feel guilty for not being able to wake up early in the morning in general.

‘Maybe if you didn’t stay up so late and got up earlier in the morning, you would feel better during the day.’ Yeah, if only it was that easy! — syoungbuck

15. “You might feel better if you lose weight.”

Weight is not always the deciding factor when it comes to someone’s health. If someone you know has chronic fatigue, you might think you’re helping by offering them some weight loss advice. But a lot of the time, when people assume your weight is the problem, rather than what’s actually going on with you, it can make you feel not heard and judged.

‘If you lose weight, you’d feel a lot better,’ is a comment I’ve heard countless times from friends, family and physicians. As if weight loss is an instant cure! — maddyjane

‘Lose weight and you’ll be out of pain,’ said a primary [doctor]. I have been in pain since I was 70 pounds at age 11. Think if I get to 69 pounds, I’ll be good or should I go for super pain-free at 60 pounds? — Sissy D.

16. “A clean home will give you energy.”

Cleaning takes a lot of energy and it can be difficult to clean a home when you live with chronic fatigue. Someone assuming your messy house is the reason behind why you have chronic fatigue could make you feel as though you’re not doing good enough and that’s why you’re struggling. While cleaning might seem like a minor suggestion, it can come off more as a way to shame a person for their life with chronic fatigue.

[People say] ‘If you cleared the clutter boxes up all over the house, you wouldn’t feel so tired and overwhelmed all the time.’ – Erika C.

17. “You’d feel less tired if you just did something.”

Implying that you need to do something to feel better can come off not so great. While you might think you’re offering help by telling someone that moving around and doing things could benefit them, it can make someone who physically cannot do things due to chronic fatigue just feel badly for it instead.

When someone says, ‘Just get up and move around’ or, ‘You need to find something to do,’ it doesn’t help. It makes me feel like they think I’m lazy. Which hurts my feelings very badly. I’m not lazy, believe me I didn’t choose this to be my life. Being tired and hurting all the time. I’m on disability, which automatically comes with the stigma of being lazy and just collecting a check. I never thought I’d end up this way. I had a great career and it’s all gone now. I most certainly wouldn’t wish this on anyone. — Cheri L.

If you live with chronic fatigue and have heard any of these “harmless” comments, know that you’re not alone. Our community is here to support you.

Here are some additional stories about living with chronic fatigue from our community:

Originally published: May 15, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home