I've had a chronic disease for nine years now, and on my diagnosis day, a day that initiated a five day hospital stay, I began receiving cards and balloons sporting the words: Get Well Soon! I recall a big smiley face mylar balloon that towered over my hospital bed, swaying when someone would walk by or the air conditioning would kick on, that smiley face mocking me.
My well-meaning family members and friends were trying to lend support, sympathy, and encouragement. I'm appreciative that I was one of the hospital patients who had a table full of cards. However, after I arrived home from my hospital stay, the cards displayed on a nearby end-table, their cheery messages and pastel illustrations made me angry, very angry.
For many reasons, a person with a chronic disease doesn't need the "get well soon" message:
1: Our diseases are progressive.
We had a starting point, and now we are somewhere in the midst of our illness journey. We've been warned by our doctors what can (or inevitably will) happen during our life with our disease. For me, a type 1 diabetic, the potential complications include depression, blindness, kidney failure, certain types of cancer, sexual dysfunction, neuropathy. These aren't things I can "get well" from.
2: Our diseases are forever.
Chronic diseases are, well, chronic. And they don't have a cure. We are learning to accept this fact. We might die from our disease, or a complication or two from it. We might live a long, long time, but the disease will always be with us. No matter what happens along the journey, we aren't going to get well. We are just going to "get."
3: Our diseases ebb and flow.
Many chronic diseases offer us seasons of "flare ups" or "relapses." And then those are followed by seasons of more dullness, predictability, or ease. When we are in the calmer seasons, we know these will run out of time. Inevitably, a harder time will arrive. It takes an incredible amount of resilience, determination, and conviction to make it through each hard season. There is no getting well, but there is "getting better" followed by "making it."
4: Our diseases are incredibly burdensome.
People who have chronic diseases live in the prisons of their own bodies. It is hardly easy walking around and knowing that we are not normal, we are not okay, and that there is no getting well. We learn to wear masks, to "grin and bear it," to survive rather than relish in pain and despair. We are always trying to balance living a great life and the reality of being a person with a forever-disease.
5: Our diseases are our normal.
"Get well soon" is for someone with the flu, someone who had their tonsils removed, or someone who broke an arm. "Get well soon" is not for people who live with a chronic disease 24/7/365. There is no getting past or over our normal lives.
The next time you go to grab a card for a friend or family member with a chronic disease (and yes, cards are appreciated, as is a cup of Starbucks, or a pedicure), head to the section labeled "Encouragement." Do not grab a card with a watercolor tulip on the front, a card featuring a "God chooses the strongest ones to fight the toughest battles" message, or a card with a cartoon character on the front. Make us laugh (preferably out loud). Make us smile. Make us want to keep trying, keep coping, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
In essence, don't waste your money on a $4 card saying "Get Well Soon" that will take up space in our recycle bin.