Saturday, November 15, 2014

Just Trying to Help, or 7 Things You Shouldn't Say to the Chronically Ill

I have serious long-term health issues.  I have good days and bad days, but there are no days that the threat of illness doesn't loom in the corner of my mind.  There are multiple doctors in my phone contact list.  The people at my pharmacy pretty much know me by sight, and some days it seems like I swallow more pills than food.

The good news is that I am surrounded by supportive people who love me and who step in when I am unable to do the important stuff.  My husband, of course, bears the brunt of this burden, but we also have friends and family who help where they can with babysitting, food, or just a sympathetic ear.

All of that being said, it must be stated that all forms of assistance are not equal.  When you are chronically ill, many people (complete strangers included) feel that the best form of support they can offer is pummeling the ailing person with questions and unsolicited advice.  These people are rarely medical professionals.  Rather they are just somebody who heard something from their second cousin who used to be a nurse, or read half of an article on a holistic medicine site five years ago.

These people are well-meaning, but good intentions are not an excuse for bad behavior.  Do you know how the sick person feels in that situation?  They have been doing battle with their own bodies for years, and now someone with zero understanding of their condition (and absent of any medical training) is suggesting that if they just did a little more research and tried this thing they heard about they'd be all better.  In fact, you're just choosing to be sick because you haven't really exhausted all your options.

Please don't defend these people.  Much like when I was pregnant, people suddenly lose their filters when faced with my illness, and I can only presume they do it to others.  I don't offer information or details about my health.  They are generally pried from me with probing, invasive questions.  It doesn't matter what the questioner intends.  Chronically ill people hear unsolicited advice on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.  It is exhausting and insulting, and if you're guilty of this, please stop immediately.  But, just in case you're not sure if you're an offender, here is a list of things you should never say to a chronically ill person:

1.  "I know [      ] who has [    ]."
I get that people are trying to connect with you, but, seriously, why do I need this information?  Also related to this statement is... 

2.  "You should meet [    ].  They have [     ] too."
Because  nothing bonds people like sharing an auto-immune disorder in common.

3.  "I heard about this treatment on Dateline, the internet, etc.  Does that not work for you?"
Why yes, it would.  I was just too stupid to take it.  Now I'm saved!  Thanks!

4.  "Have you tried vitamins, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractor,  natural medicine?"
Actually, my doctor recommended all of those things, but I'm refusing to do them just to piss him off.  Plus I enjoy being sick.

5.  "I would lose my mind if I were sick all the time/had to give up gluten/couldn't exercise/had to take lots of medication.  I just couldn't do it."
I understand how hard that would be for you.  Fortunately, I'm having a blast, so don't worry about how you're pointing how badly my life sucks.  For me, it's just all fun, all the time.

6.  "I don't take prescription medication.  It's unnatural poison."
How lucky for you that you have that option.  

And last but certainly not least....

7.  "I have [     ] symptoms.  Do you think I have what you have?"
First of all, I don't profess medical proficiency like you, O helpful-advice-person, so I cannot diagnose you.  But yes, you probably have it.  Only worse.  Allow me to give you some advice.

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