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Why ‘Sick Person Safe Words’ Could Help Communicate Your Health Struggles

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So, what sort of symptoms are you experiencing today?

How many people have you told about them? Does your spouse know what you’re feeling? Your friends? Your parents? Or, have you fallen silent because you’re tired of bitching about something every single day?

Something I battle is deciding whether or not to open my mouth and talk about what I’m feeling or going through each day.

“I have a migraine and vertigo.”

“Widespread pain stopped me from sleeping last night.”

“I’m having an irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) flare that’s lasting three days so far.”

“Today I’m too tired to push through.”

“I’m having too much pain and weakness to walk well.”

“I’m too anxious to go out tonight.”

“I’m too nauseated to eat dinner right now.”

“Lately, my depression has been getting the best of me, I need to lay down.”

Who wants to hear that? Who wants to hear me tell them every single day about what I’m going through? Because it’s always something. I never don’t have some sort of complaint.

And if you’re anything like me, you get tired of “bitching.” You get tired of seeming like you’re bitching. 

Feeling like you’ve never got any good news to deliver will cause you to fall silent. Not talking about your symptoms and how you’re feeling eventually leads you to be reclusive. Your friends and family don’t know what you’re going through, and you don’t want to tell them. You get pissy and frustrated because the house is too loud and you’re experiencing hypersensitivity, or you’re being pushed to your limits while you’re out and no one seems to catch on.

It’s an endless cycle of feeling like a whiner and complainer and a burden versus not being understood or cared for because you don’t express what you’re dealing with.

Personally, I tend to turn into a bit of an asshole when I’m really going through it. I get quiet and testy. I snap a bit. I don’t communicate well. And for some reason, I often expected the people around me to just get it, but they can’t get it until I say something, otherwise I just look like a cranky asshole.

This leads me to a strange (brilliant?) idea.

A sick person’s safe phrase.

What if, instead of “my depression is really creeping in on me today,” you say something like, “Mister Rogers is in the neighborhood?”

Maybe instead of, “I’m feeling so incredibly nauseated and dizzy,” you try, “I’m practicing my eggplant impression?”

“I’m having a lot of pain” could translate to, “the tin man lost his oil can.”

These seem silly, I get that, but here’s the idea behind the whole thing:

If saying one of these phrases allows you to make it clear to those around you that you simply are not feeling well in a way that doesn’t make you feel like all you do is complain, then hopefully you’ll be more inclined to speak up and let those around you know what you’re dealing with.

Aside from letting “your people” know what’s going on, it might make you more comfortable leaving public situations with people who don’t know you well or don’t know what you go through.

If you can turn to your friends and say your safe phrase, they can better accommodate you without you having to reveal to strangers or co-workers that you feel like you’re going to fall down at any moment.

Try it out — let me know if you do.

And keep this in mind — you’re not bitching. We don’t need to go through chronic physical and mental illness alone.

Don’t isolate yourself for fear of sounding like a broken record. And if anyone does make you feel like you’re bitching, tell them to shove it — they’re not a part of your support system and you don’t need them around.

That being said, I’m always here to listen, even if you just need to vent to someone about what you’re dealing with.

Speak up!

Photo by Katarzyna Grabowska on Unsplash

Originally published: April 17, 2019
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