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4 Cringeworthy Things to Never Say to (or About) Someone Who Is Chronically Ill

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Of all the different types of comments and advice I have received or heard over the last five or so years, I think the absolute worst comment was, “Well, at least she’s alive!”

I cringe every time that I hear that. Yes, thank God she is alive. Thank God modern medicine has given her and us another chance. But I am silently squashing my desire to strangle you as those words tumble out of your mouth.

Here are four more things to not say to someone who is chronically ill:

1. “Well, shouldn’t you (or her) go see a specialist?”

Done, done, and done. No specialist can tell us anything more than what we have already found out.  We have gone the traditional medicine route, we have tried alternative medicine with dietary changes, weight loss, even thought about acupuncture. Too many tubes of blood work and other
diagnostic tests have been done. There is nothing left.

2. “Why don’t you try to go vegan or paleo?”

Please, please do not suggest this. For the love of all that is holy, being vegan will not solve my problems. If not eating meat and animal products will help me from going blind eventually, I would have done it years ago. But unfortunately, science does not support the concept that eating vegan
or paleo would solve my problems.

3. “Is it the milk that did this to you? The hormones in milk?”

I don’t know about you, but I think almost every child that was born in the year of 1992 drank milk at some point in time. So I honestly cannot even believe that the “milk was what did it.” The hormones are another story (not really). Milk has been consumed by hundreds of thousands of millions of people worldwide across many generations and I’m not sure if another soul has ever thought the “milk did it.”

4. “Have you tried yoga or other homeopathic methods? I read that lutein once helps your eyes. Do you eat enough carrots?”

Enough. Just enough. Carrots will not stop your vision from degenerating and it will not make it magically better. There is no number of vitamins in this world that will solve the problems I have. Had lutein been proven to make my eyesight better, again I would have started taking it long before I was told I could go blind. Yoga will not do anything for my eyes. Yes, it has benefits for
reducing stress and increasing core strength, but unless my eyes have abs, I’m not so sure how helpful yoga is.

I understand that people just want to be helpful. We are bound by our overwhelming desire sometimes to help people “fix” themselves. But the truth is that when you yourself have a chronic illness or someone you know does, these kinds of suggestions do nothing but make you have a profound dislike of others. Don’t get me wrong, support systems are important, but sometimes it is more important to just be present with your chronically ill buddy rather than try to be the guy from Home Depot selling you Fix-a-Flat.

Be kind and courteous. Offer to sit on the couch and be lazy while your friend or family member feels terrible. I have spent more nights at home alone because people do not understand what it is like to live with what I have — the unbearable pain or gut-wrenching nausea. It is difficult to convey your true state through text or phone call. So as friends, be there, be present. Check in when you have not heard from someone for a few days. When you know they’re feeling down or sick, check in frequently. Offer soup or a listening ear. Be compassionate and understanding.

And when their sickness (whether temporary or not) breaks, get together, reminisce, and laugh. It seems like laughter is the best medicine anyone can get.

Originally published: October 19, 2016
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