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6 Tips for Talking to Someone With a Chronic Illness

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At some point in your life, you’ll likely engage in a conversation with a chronically sick person and the touchy subject of illness will come up. I understand that you more than likely have the best intentions. You probably don’t even realize that some comments are rude and offend those of us with chronic disabilities.

So when you find yourself in a conversation with a chronically ill person here’s my advice to you:

1. Do not ever under any circumstance say, “You don’t look sick.” 

Many chronic illnesses don’t have symptoms that make people look sick. I may appear to look fine, but if I could should you how angry and inflamed my insides look, you’d say otherwise. We call them “invisible illnesses” for a reason, and someone’s physical appearance has nothing to do with their health.  

2. Don’t compare people. 

Oh, you used to have a co-worker with the same condition? That sucks, but I really don’t care. Chronic illnesses affect everyone differently, and what value does a comment like that hold anyway? Being sick isn’t a competition! 

3. Don’t give us your opinion or health advice.

Unless I specifically ask, it’s not OK to share your medical advice with me. Chances are, you don’t have as well of an understanding of my condition as you may think. Trust me, I’m well educated on my body, illnesses and treatments. Oh, and that article you read about 10 super foods that’ll cure me — yeah, that’s bogus.

4. Don’t give us sympathy; we probably don’t want it anyway.

We want positivity, that’s for sure. But we don’t want to listen to the same sappy “inspiration” over and over again. I’ve been sick for six years, so please stop telling me not to give up hope. Please don’t tell me how sorry you feel for me.  

5. Don’t make us feel guilty for being ill.

Don’t make anyone feel guilty for having a disability. We struggle with enough of that on our own. Try to be more understanding with people who are chronically ill. If we cancel plans or can’t make an event due to treatment or being ill, understand that and move on. If we have to cut a day short because we don’t have the energy, understand and move on. We can’t control our health and shouldn’t have to feel guilty about it. Don’t act like my illness and disability is an inconvenience to you.   

6. Listen and understand us.

Chances are, if I’m talking to you about my illness, it’s because I want you to have a proper understanding of what I’m going through. I want people to understand my illness, so I can live as normally as possible. I want people to understand I don’t have energy like everyone else. I want people to understand I’m coping with chronic pain literally all the time. I talk about my illness, so that I don’t feel so alone. Being chronically ill comes with a great deal of loneliness and generally feeling disconnected from everyone else.

But I’m not alone. There are millions of people like me. If you want to help anyone who is chronically ill, simply listening and understanding what’s happening to them is a great start. 

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: November 18, 2016
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