Imagine waking up fatigued or in pain every day. Picture having to adjust your lifestyle based on something that's happening in your body that you can't control.
Welcome to the daily reality of those who deal with chronic illness.
According to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control report, approximately 117 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with at least one chronic health condition. The symptoms depend on the illness, but can range from fatigue to persistent pain. Chronic illness can even affect a person's mental health.
But the physical components are just part of the plight. There's also a personal element of dealing with stigma and those who don't understand what it feels like to be at war with your body. As a result, people can make some pretty insensitive comments.
Below are 10 things you shouldn't say to someone with chronic illness, as told by the people who suffer from them.
1. "You don't look sick."
Just because someone doesn't look sick on the outside doesn't mean they aren't experiencing an illness.
"I have MS and one of my faves is when people say they know someone with MS that is in a wheelchair. ... People with MS aren't born into a wheelchair. There are varying degrees. I have days where I can barely get out of bed and days where I feel like I can get things done. It's no one's business." -- Laurel McDaniel via Facebook
2. "What's wrong with you?"
There are so many other, more sensitive ways to inquire about someone's condition.
"What's wrong with you now? We need to find you a bubble to live in." -- Nalani Perry via Facebook
3. "It's all in your head."
Chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia result in very real, physical symptoms from fatigue to muscle pain.
"'You need to go ahead and get up and get things done. The pain is all in your head. You can beat it with happy thoughts.' No one who says these things have ever suffered from chronic pain where painkillers don't work," -- Dana Newby Wright via Facebook
4. "Are you a picky eater?"
Some people don't have a say in whether or not they have to modify their diet.
"I have been living with celiac disease for 34 years and being completely gluten-free is my 'medicine.' Now that it's trendy to eat gluten-free, too many people roll their eyes when I explain I must eat gluten-free. ... I have NO choice but to eat this way." -- Erin Smith via Facebook
5. "It could always be worse."
Sometimes the best advice is not offering advice at all, but encouragement and support.
"Yes, I know it could be worse. But this is pretty effing hard to deal with anyway some days." -- Tristen Barnhart via Facebook
6. "That's not a real illness."
This phrase not only diminishes a person's experience, it also could be factually inaccurate. There are multiple forms of chronic illness.
"The level of frustration, hurt and rage these comments create in me are beyond description." -- Kimberly Merritt via Facebook
7. "I know how you feel."
Unless you actually suffer from a chronic condition or the same illness, it's best not to try to overly empathize with the person's experience. It could come off as condescending.
"I have chronic migraines from a fractured skull when I was a child, but when someone says 'Oh, I get headaches, also,' that's great, but I suffer from migraines. It's not the same." -- Gianna Silvi via Facebook
8. "Have you tried changing your diet?"
More often than not, someone who has a chronic illness is already working with their doctor for the best course of action.
"My rheumatologist says there is no evidence base for diet changes, but I get asked this all the time and it makes me feel like they think I am not trying hard enough." -- Kate Alexandra via Facebook
9. "Just think positive."
Research shows that a positive attitude can help with healing, but sometimes it's just hard to think that way in the face of constant pain. To those with chronic illness, this type of comment comes off rather blithe.
"Positive, uplifting thoughts do help get through the most difficult days, but I know what I have. I know how I feel. This won't just 'go away' because it makes others uncomfortable." -- Kimberly Morales via Facebook
10. "You're too young to be so sick."
Unfortunately, illness doesn't discriminate.
"People don't realize that being sick doesn't have an age limit. It doesn't care what your gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity, where you live, if you're poor or rich... it literally can happen to anyone!" -- Meghan Leake via Facebook
One thing you should do? Ask more questions about the illness itself.
"I have been a Type 1 diabetic for 14 years and it never ceases to amaze me how little people understand about such a common disease. I used to feel awkward and embarrassed when people would ask questions or didn't understand what was going on. Now I prefer to educate people so that they gain a greater understanding of what I and many like me go through." -- Lee Hinkle via Facebook
Bottom line, chronic illness patients know that you care -- it's just the delivery of the message that can sometimes be off. When in doubt, ask thoughtful questions. There's always room to learn more.
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