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One Thing I Never Want to Hear Concerning My Chronic Illness, and 4 Things I Do

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“You can do anything if you want it bad enough.” Say that to anyone and I think it’s likely they’ll want to roll their eyes at you. Say that to someone like me who is dealing with a chronic illness, and I may never talk to you again.

I don’t act on it, of course. People don’t actually tell me I have to “want it.” But it’s the little riffs on this saying: “Think positive thoughts.” “Do you have a job yet?” “You could just try doing something easy.” “You seem fine.” “But look at how much fun you had!” They may seem like totally unrelated sayings to you, but to me they all try to define how I’m supposed to feel or what I’m supposed to do. Whenever these sayings pop up, I feel like I should be ashamed of my illness, and then I feel like I have to explain myself. I doesn’t matter if you’re sick or not — having to explain yourself is likely something no one wants to do. However, if I don’t, I feel that ignorance may continue.

Why don’t I feel the need to be super positive? A. Science has found it may not actually help you get better. B. I feel like sh*t. Why should I be positive? You probably have no idea how often I’m faking it anyway. Why don’t I have a job yet? I sleep 10 or more hours a day, and I can never tell if I’ll be able to get out of bed, much less get to and perform a job. Why don’t I try doing something easy? Sorry, but learning a new language isn’t easy. I’d rather try to do things I want to do when I feel like I can do them, and I have to be mentally ready to take something on. Why do I seem fine? I want you to think I am fine at that moment. Who wants to wallow in their misery all the time? I just want to pretend for a few hours. Why did it appear I had so much fun? Maybe I did, maybe I really tried to. But does that mean I have to suppress all my other feelings?

That probably seemed really defensive, but that’s exactly what I’m thinking when I have to sugarcoat my explanations. Let’s face it: Illness is no walk in the park for the sick person or anyone around them. It’s probably really hard to know how to approach someone who is chronically ill.

So after being sick for nearly five years, here is the best advice I have for being a good friend:

First, just be there. You can say the most absurd thing, but to me just being there is the first and foremost way to show you care. The rest is just semantics.

Second, allow this person to complain if they want to, and even if you feel really uncomfortable, I think the best thing you can say is, “Dude, that sucks. Sorry you are going through that.”

Third, allow the friendship to be two-sided. Tell them about your life, even if it’s about problems you may think seem trivial. To put it another way, you are probably thinking, “This person has cancer and I’m complaining about my boyfriend.” But your friend may be thinking, “Thank God I can focus on something else other than this d*mn cancer.”

And last but not least, I’d recommend trying not to make assumptions about your friend’s state of being, because it can change day-to-day. Continue inviting them to things, even if 90 percent of the time they have to decline or bail at the last minute. Just being included can mean all the difference.

Being a good friend can be one of the hardest jobs in the world. But if you can pull it off, even with hiccups along the way, I believe it shows that you have matured and gained wisdom that will certainly help you later in life. You can do anything if you want it bad enough.

four women with arms around each other
Bradley (second from right) and her friends.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: February 3, 2016
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