13 Things You Should Never Say to a Person with a Chronic Illness

The following quotes are things that were actually said to me over the past few years:

    1. “I’m glad you’re better now.” Those of us with illnesses do see improvement in our health sometimes, but it’s usually like the waxing and waning of the moon. It comes and goes and then comes again. We may address one problem just to have another (or ten) take it’s place. Or, the problem we thought was resolved may repeatedly rear its head over the course of our whole lives. The truth is I’ll probably never be all better. Most people with autoimmune diseases struggle with varying degrees of symptoms for their entire life. A few are able to find a single medication that resolves all their symptoms. They are the blessed few.

    2. I guess you don’t need my help anymore.” This is really an extension of number 1, but I thought it deserved its own category. I’ve heard this so many times. If someone sees that I’m having good day, they assume that whatever was ailing me is gone, and I’m all better now. I lost a house cleaner this way. Since I was well enough to help her clean one day when she came, she decided I no longer needed her services. She didn’t grasp the concept of a chronic illness. Chronic doesn’t mean all days will be bad, but it does mean that the symptoms will return and be long-lasting. Don’t stop helping just because someone seems to be having a good day.

    3. “I know I promised to help, but you’ll be fine without me.” This is also an extension of number one. But, again, it needs its own category. If you promise to help someone who is chronically ill, don’t back out at the last minute. We rely heavily on help from others. Sometimes I can’t drive or can’t clean. If you call 15 minutes before you’re supposed to be here and cancel, I’m stuck. I was counting on you. Now, obviously everyone has sick kids from time to time, and you can’t predict the weather. So, I give people a lot of grace. But, be reliable. If you make a promise to help, keep it. I have dissolved into tears over people who promise to help and cancel at the last minute when I was completely depending on them.

       

    4. “All you do is leave stuff unfinished.” The person who said this to me probably has no idea how much this hurt. If only he knew how incredibly hard I try to be consistent and to finish projects. About 5 years ago, before we knew about my son’s learning disabilities, I made elaborate notebooks for the boys. We were going to cut out, color, and glue information about all 50 states into our notebooks. It would be so fun! But, because of my son’s learning disorder, cutting out and coloring was too painful for him. So, those notebooks have sat in my office for the last 5 years. For years, I’ve heard this person’s voice in my head, and it made me determined we’d finish this project no matter what! My son’s almost 15 and not interested in coloring and gluing. Last week, I let myself off the hook and threw it all away. Even as I did, there was a voice in the back of my head that reminded me that this was another thing I had failed to finished. I had to learn to ignore it when that person’s negative comments pop into my head. Don’t do that to people. Don’t add to their guilt and sense of failure when they’re already struggling. It’s cruel.

    5. “You’re in sin because you’re not in church regularly.” Sigh. My heart and soul long to be in a fellowship of believers, but when I can barely function, I cannot get us to church. Mornings are not good for me. I start to function well usually around 11am. I have to be up and functioning by 8am to get my family to church by 10:45am. Plus, to make it to church, I have to have 2 or 3 good days in a row so that I can have dishes clean for food, clothes washed to wear, etc. I have to take medication early enough in the day to ease the pain of sitting in the seats at church. I have to be prepared to be unable to function the next day if going to church was too stressful. On top of that, I can’t have had a stressful week, or I have no social reserves to interact with the people at church. Scripture does say that you shouldn’t forsake the gathering. It doesn’t specify what kind of gathering. It doesn’t say only in a church building. It’s important to know that most New Testament gatherings were in people’s homes. I have not stopped getting together and fellowshipping. I’m just often unable to do it in the socially accepted manner. For some reason, the elderly and shut-ins are given a pass on this issue, but someone who is chronically ill is not. This doesn’t make sense to me. If someone has cancer, are you upset that they didn’t come to church this week and accuse them of sinning? Of course not. So, why would you say that to someone who has an autoimmune illness like MS or Hashimoto’s? Or even someone with social anxiety or bipolar?

    6. “If you just used my MLM product, your illness would go away.” Deep breath. This is a sensitive topic for me. People are constantly pushing their products on me, especially on Facebook. I have complete strangers who saw something I posted on a group, like a mere mention of chronic illness, and suddenly I’m bombarded with private messages trying to sell me stuff. Now, I’m not saying that none of the MLM stuff has helped anyone. What rubs me wrong is the promise that a shake or oil or supplement will make my illness disappear. They don’t even know what ails me, but their product is the answer. They believe that a single over-the-counter supplement can do what all my doctors in 12 years have not been able to do. I don’t even know how to respond to that kind of logic, or rather illogic. I usually use it as an opportunity to praise God for how far He has brought me. Sometimes I get no reply, but sometimes the messenger will praise God with me. That’s pretty awesome.

    7. “God is doing this to punish you for your sin.” I have lost life-long friendships over this issue. This represents a basic misunderstanding of scripture and how God interacts with His people. It is true that sometimes God allows our sin to culminate in consequence here on earth (consider the prodigal son eating the pig food), but it is also true that sometimes bad things happen to godly people (consider the story of poor Lazarus and the Rich Man). This is a story as old as the ages. From time immemorial, people have accused those who suffered of being under God’s wrathful hand. Like the friends in the story Job, the people who told me this had a basic misunderstanding of how God interacts with His children. One person who accused me of sin, later suffered from a serious illness and was distraught, because she couldn’t figure out what sin God was punishing her for. It broke my heart. She is really struggling with her faith, because she doesn’t understand that God is working in her, not punishing her.

    8. “You’re sick because you’re not in God’s will for your life.” This is sort of a twist on number 7. Both are a result of prosperity gospel, the false idea that if you’re a Christian  then God will make you happy, healthy, and wealthy. If you’re not happy, healthy, and wealthy, you’re doing something wrong. But, this takes it a step further and includes the elusive “will of God.” Some people believe that God has this one path for you that you have to struggle to find, and they believe that you’re not making God happy until you find that path and stay on it. I think God is quite powerful enough to see to His own will and surely not foolish enough to leave His will solely in the hands of a mere human so that if I’m not uber careful I’ll not be living in His will. I’m awfully arrogant if I think I can disrupt the very will of Almighty God. Not even kings can do that! Scripture is quite clear that God’s will has less to do with what we do day-to-day and more to do with who we are. His will is that we conform to the image of His son and have the mind of Christ. That’s what this illness is doing: it’s making me more like Jesus. So, it is in fact evidence that I am in the will of God, not out of it.

    9. “You’re withholding your ‘wifely duties’ by not sleeping in bed with your husband at night.” Ahem. First of all, this is a highly private topic, and while I’m a pretty open person, it’s really not anyone’s business. What kind of person accuses someone else of withholding intimacy from their spouse? Maybe you should ask my husband if he has any complaints. Believe me, I already did: he doesn’t. Couples find themselves in all kinds of situations where they are not sleeping in the same bed. I have one friend whose husband works nights. Another friend has an autistic child who is up a lot at night, and the mom spends most nights sleeping in the child’s room. In my case, I usually sleep on the couch. It’s softer than the bed, and I wake up with less pain. So what? My husband is okay with this and even kinda likes having the bed to himself. My friend with 10 kids can co-sleep with 5 of the small children and her husband and still managed to get pregnant again, so obviously any couple can make it work if they want to. But, mostly remember: it’s none of your stinkin’ business. Don’t ask.

       

    10. “Why can’t you be more reliable and consistent?” This is a hard one for me because I want to be reliable and consistent. But, I can’t. The hardest part of my inconsistency is when it affects my children. My second born intensely wants to play the piano, but his teacher dropped us because I couldn’t promise to give her at least 24 hours notice if we weren’t able to come. It wasn’t good enough for us to pay for the classes he missed, we had to be there or quit altogether. The problem is I never know when I’ll wake up in pain or unable to drive. I want to be consistent and do my best, but this is my reality. If it’s annoying and frustrating for those around me, imagine how hard it is to live with the unpredictability of a serious illness.

    11. “I feel sorry for your children that they have to live with a sick mother.” Honestly, so do I sometimes. I would love to be that mom who is constantly caring for and providing for her family. But, what we want isn’t always what God gives us. I never wanted to be the mom whose kids had to put her socks and shoes on her because she was in too much pain to do it herself, but I’m immensely blessed and proud to be the mom of the teenage boy who put my shoes on everyday for almost 2 years without a single complaint. I never wanted to be the mom who couldn’t clean her own house, but I’m immensely blessed and proud to be the mom of the boys who decided they would follow a cleaning schedule and clean for me. Somedays, I might wish this had never happened, but the character that it’s developing in my kids, I would not change that for the whole world even if I could. I wouldn’t never wish that away.

    12. “If you would just eat healthier, your illness would go away.” There is some truth to this. I’m the last person to downplay the significance of diet on your health. However, I have had serious health problems since I was born not breathing. I was hospitalized multiple times and almost died as a child. Unless you’re going to blame my health on my mom’s eating habits while pregnant (which is pretty extreme, if you ask me), this argument doesn’t hold water for me. So many problems are genetic and inherited –part of the curse after the Fall. It’s unreasonable to turn around a blame all of someone’s health problems on not eating enough salads. One reason it isn’t this simple is because some people are born unable to properly absorb the nutrients they eat. So, eating healthier alone isn’t enough. It’s so, so much more complicated than this.

    13. “You just need to try harder.”  Ah, yes, the idea that if you just push harder that will fix everything. It’s a nice idea. The sentiment makes nice posters to hang on office walls, but it is actually counterproductive when it comes to most health issues. The harder you push, the more sick you get. I really wish I could make myself better by sheer determination. However, telling a sick person this is essentially just blaming their illness on them (just like a few other of the quotes here). Those of us who are sick do need to be proactive about our health and need to be our own advocates, but we’re not going to beat an illness by being the most stubborn person in the room. Believe me, I am usually the most stubborn person in the room, and it hasn’t healed me yet.

These are just a few of the things that have been said to me that made me go, “Really? Did you actually just say that?”

Take my advice, and don’t say them to others.

A listening ear, an offer to help with housework or an errand, and a shoulder to cry on when overwhelmed, these are always welcome, as are genuine offers for prayer.

Don’t be the reason someone is discouraged. Don’t be like Job’s wife and his friends.

Don’t go looking for a reason why things are wrong, why bad things are happening.

Don’t lay blame on those who are suffering.

Just be there with unconditional support.

That is how you can be Jesus to those who are suffering around you.

Blessings,

Sarah

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