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15 'Helpful' Comments That Actually Hurt People With Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
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Once people discover you are dealing with health challenges, it often leads them to offer you some advice or comment about your condition. However, your chronic illness may be different than the types of illness they’re used to dealing with — like the common cold or a flu — so they may not realize their “helpful” comments aren’t all that useful for you. Of course, much of the time your healthy friends mean well and truly believe they’re being helpful. But some of their comments may unintentionally end up coming across as dismissive and hurtful, especially if the comments suggest the sick person is to blame for not “getting better.”

We wanted to help educate the “healthy” community about which comments they may think are helpful, but actually make their chronically ill friends feel worse (or at the very least, not “helped”). So we asked our Mighty community to share a comment they’ve heard that was intended to be helpful, but wasn’t. If you’re reading this because you have a chronic illness, hopefully you’ll find it validating to hear that other chronic warriors feel the same way you do. And if you don’t have chronic illnesses but have loved ones who do, perhaps this list will give you an idea of what you can say to help them feel supported.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. “Just wait until you’re my age!”

“‘Just wait until you’re my age!’ says a 60-ish-year-old woman who walks better than I do. (Pfft. I’m already older than you healthwise. You just can’t see it.) I get that she was trying to make me feel better in the here and now, but yeah, that’s one of the most incredibly clueless ways I can imagine.” — Selena W.

“‘Ahh just wait ’til you’re older!’ Yeah because having two types of inflammatory arthritis at 27 means I’ll be all set when I’m 60. I’m dreading the pain levels I may have in 10 years, never mind 40.” — Jen A.

2. “Try to stay positive.”

“‘Try to be positive.’ Please let me vent and express negativity about my health. Also being realistic about my symptoms and limitations is not the same as being negative.” — Linnea S.

“‘Just try being positive. If you weren’t speaking so negatively all the time you may feel better.’ This was said after someone asked me ‘how are you’ and I was honest. Won’t do that again!” — Linds D.

3. “Have you tried getting more exercise?”

“‘Exercising will help your condition.’ That was so hurtful and actually exercise causes more pain for my body. Some people are too sick to exercise.” — Jenny W.

“‘Walking will do you some good.’ What my doctor said when I asked about paperwork for a [disabled] placard. She doesn’t get that I can sometimes walk in somewhere (grocery store for instance) but when I am on the way out, I am in so much pain and so exhausted that walking back to my vehicle is a challenge. Instead she could have just listened to me.” — Samantha D.

4. “Me, too.”

“Them: ‘How are you feeling?’ Me: ‘Really fatigued.’ Them: ‘Yeah me too.’ That response always annoys me a little. And from people that have known me for my whole fibromyalgia journey. They know their tiredness isn’t the same as mine. I know they’re trying to support me though.” — Carolyn H.

“‘Oh I get that too. It’s just part of getting older.’” — Shannon K.

5. “I hope you get better soon.”

“‘Well I hope you get better soon’ — not sure what part of ‘chronic’ got missed there when I was explaining it… Would have been better to just say, ‘Thinking of you’ or ‘If you need anything, shout.’ They are much better endings to a conversation. I have fibromyalgia for life. Just reading up and understanding even a tiny part of it will show me you care.” — Michelle U.

“‘Maybe you might get better.’ Just magically, like a chromosome may appear out of nowhere and reattach itself to the gene. It’s quite spectacular realizing how little people remember from their high school science.” — Suswati B.

6. “Your medications/treatments are probably what’s making you sick.”

“‘Have you ever thought that it’s all those medications that are making you sick?’ Yes, they give those out to healthy people, clearly!”— Melanie C.

“‘Have you looked at medication side effects? Nothing can be worth those risks!’ I’d rather take the risk to have my life back!” — Jenna H.

7. “Just keep pushing through and your illness will go away.”

“My dad was trying to be helpful, his heart is in the right place, but he’s very old-fashioned and thinks if I just ‘get up and go to work’ — as if I don’t want to — my fibromyalgia will go away.” — Tea M.

“I have a laundry list of chronic illnesses as well as episodic migraines. I was trying to describe some of my challenges to someone who, I thought would have compassion, if not full understanding. Their comment was, ‘Can’t you just push through?’ I have never felt more defeated in my life. From infancy (ask my mom) my motto has been, ‘I can do it myself!’ I have willpower. I have enough willpower to make myself sicker by pushing through when I should have been resting. Pushing through started endangering myself and others around me when fatigue should have kept me off the road. Pushing though is what I did. Until I couldn’t.” — Elizabeth B.

8. “At least it’s not cancer. Other people have it worse than you.”

“‘At least it’s not cancer, people have it much worse.’ Yes I’m very aware people have things a lot worse, but it doesn’t make what I’m going through any easier.” — Hayley N.

“No offense to anyone who has cancer, but it’s happened more than once where someone will say, ‘Well at least you don’t have cancer’ as if nothing could be worse than that… People mean well, most of the time, but there is no hierarchy of illnesses that determine where you fall in the disease-of-the-month category. Best thing people can do is to stop talking, stop giving us advice or medical tales gone wrong, and listen. Just listen.” — Evelyn D.

9. “It would help if you got out more.”

“‘Stop isolating yourself…’ is not a helpful thing to hear when living with chronic migraine and pain. I am not isolating myself, it is not a choice. It is the nature of the disease.” — Dawn R.

“‘A few week’s holiday in the sun would do you the world of good. I have older patients who swear by six weeks by the pool in Spain…’ That was suggested by a rheumatoid arthritis consultant.” — Sarah B.

“‘You need to get out more and do more.’ As if I wouldn’t like to. I do go out but I then pay for it so I don’t go out every week.” — Emma P.

10. “You just need to lose some weight.”

“‘Just lose some weight, your knees won’t hurt then’ in response to my arthritis, or the dietary recommendations for my Crohn’s disease. Thanks, the weight never had anything to do with the arthritis, as now evidenced by it being no better after I’ve lost [weight] with my new Crohn’s diagnosis… and I think I’ll follow my doctors dietary recommendations if he gives me any, thanks.” — Maddi L.

“The old ‘Have you thought of losing weight?’ number. Little do they know my congenital leg deformities brought on the osteoarthritis, and that no amount of losing weight would fix them.” — Misty A.

11. “Stop thinking so much about your illness.”

“‘Oh, you just have to not think about it. Just put it out of your mind.’ (Really? Wow! I didn’t realize there was such an easy cure for major depression.)” — Charra J.

“‘Stop looking up stuff about your condition.’ They think it makes me a ‘hypochondriac’ and that I’ll feel better if I ignore it.” — Megan M.

12. “My friend has that, and he got better so I’m sure you can, too.”

“Well, so-and-so has that and they seem fine (or have a job, or do so much more than you, etc.).” — Hillary T.

“‘I have a friend who’s been diagnosed with the same thing as you yet he doesn’t suffer like you claim you do. Maybe it’s all in the head.’” — Tangerine D.

“‘My sister’s boyfriend’s mum had that and cured themselves by doing x, y, z on the night of a full moon.’ Instead say, ‘I don’t know much about that, but let me take the kids for a couple of hours.’” — Lola C.

13. “Well, you don’t look sick!”

“’You don’t look blind.’ And what is blind supposed to look like? Most people with severe visual impairment still maintain some fraction of sight — even if it is light perception. And many of us work hard to nurture skills that allow us to participate in daily tasks as effortlessly as the sighted. So perhaps say instead, ‘Your mobility and independence are excellent.’” — Christina E.

“‘But you look so healthy and well.’” — Sophie C.

14. “God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle.”

“‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.’ I’d much rather hear, ‘I see you need some help with xyz, can I take care of that for you?’” — Catriona H.

“‘God only gives you what you can handle.’ [I believe] God did not give this to me out of some twisted sense of confidence that I could handle it. But… He knows it is hard and the struggle is real. Instead they can say, ‘God loves you and shares this difficult journey every step of the way.’” — Vicki G.

15. “You’ll feel better if you get some rest.”

“‘I’m sure you will feel better when you get some rest… you should get your family to help you around the house…’” — Shelby R.

Originally published: May 14, 2018
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