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To the People Who Give Me Unsolicited Advice About My Chronic Illness

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Oftentimes when my illness flares up, I’ll hear something along the lines of:

“Have you tried self-care?”

No, I haven’t thought of that. I’m out raging every night while I have my chronic illness, said no one ever.

Today, after a flare-up and receiving lots of well-meaning yet triggering texts and calls to this effect, I’m faced with the question: Why do people never seem to know what to say to someone who is really ill? Is it because they haven’t experienced the same level of illness so they can’t relate?


But I think it’s something even more than that.

For some people, your sickness may trigger their own fears around life, death, health and illness. Not only do they not know what to say to you, the presence of your illness hits their deepest shadowy beliefs, which is why they may say things like:

“They’re sick because they don’t eat as healthy as I do. If I eat perfectly, I won’t get sick.”

“They’re sick because they don’t pray. If I cultivate my relationship with God, I am protected from illness.”

And on it goes, you get the point.  Everyone has their own flavor of beliefs around, “If I _____, I will be healthy and safe.”

This is not to say don’t eat healthy or cultivate a spiritual connection in your life.  Those are absolutely important things! But the level of control we humans think we have in this game of life is really ridiculous to me when I hear healthy people preaching to sick people what they should try — as if they haven’t already tried everything.

Most people who have struggled with chronic illness for a time have been desperately trying all of these techniques and modalities — really anything they can get their hands on to feel better.  Sometimes, miracle healings happen. And other times, the person is sick long-term. No amount of interventions may heal some people, though maybe they can learn to manage their illness and continue on with as meaningful a life as they can muster.

It is natural for all of us to fear losing our lives and our physical wellness. But it’s not OK to give sick people unsolicited advice when you’re as healthy as a horse.

So what can we do and say instead?

We can realize our own beliefs and fears around our mortality are our own. They do not belong to anyone else and they shouldn’t because everyone has different life experiences, especially with regard to health. And we can stop projecting those beliefs onto everyone around us!

We can try to empathize rather than “fix.” We can hold compassion at the forefront of every interaction and think, “If i were in their shoes, how would i want to be nurtured in this moment?”

And perhaps most importantly, we can admit that we don’t know everything. Hell, if you’re “enlightened,” maybe you’ll even admit you don’t know anything about why amazing people get sick, why tragedies happen or what we’re even here to do on this planet in the first place.

All anyone can do is their best in every moment with what life is asking of them in that moment. The more we can stay open-minded to this, the more connection and true support we can give and receive.

Getty Images: angel_nt

Originally published: November 4, 2019
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