5 Things NOT to say to someone with a Chronic Illness or Invisible Disability
Updated: Jul 1
By Kirsty Kinsella
Welcome to a short guide on things not to say to someone with a chronic illness/ invisible
disability. It should go without saying that this is also for when the person’s disability is not invisible.
A lot of these things are not something someone says with the intent to cause any harm but hey it does anyway!
You may be reading this because you have a friend/family member who has an illness, or maybe you yourself have one and want to read something relatable! You also may have been sent this because you said one of these things! If so please read and hopefully you come away with a better understanding of why these very common comments are upsetting.
1. ‘You don’t look sick’
Wow. Look at that I’m all better now, I never realised I had to look sick
to be sick! I’m cured!!! Seriously, this is a very unhelpful comment.
Even if this was meant in a positive way it does not boost our morale or help us feel better. My face won’t show what is going on internally with my body. Especially with chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities, the person’s ‘sick status’ won’t be visible to you.
2. ‘It could be worse’
I’m sure it could be. That, however, does not change the fact that it isn’t good. Yes, my condition could limit my movement more or kill me, that would be worse but I’m still suffering.
This is another example of something that can be said with positive
intentions but has the effective of making us feel worse. Yes, I’m grateful that I can still
move without walking aids or that I can live my life relatively independently at the moment,
thank you for reminding me of that, I guess? I’m sure when you’re sick the last thing you
want to hear is, ‘It’s just a stomach bug, it could be worse, you could be dying’. Is that going
to make you feel any better? No.
3. ‘When you’re better…' or 'Are you better yet?’
Now this one is more difficult than the previous two. For example, when my godson asks me when I’m going to get better it’s a lot different than a grandparent/sibling/parent who is not accepting that this is not the type of illness that is going to go away. Often their version of ‘better’ is not realistic for what my life is.
Better for me can mean ‘Oh I can get dressed by myself today’ or ‘My medication is
working really well this week’. This is often frustrating when dealing with family members
who are in denial about your diagnosis. Trying to explain that I will not suddenly improve,
and that my version of ‘better’ will not match up with yours can be infuriating.
4. ‘Have you ever tried...’
I think most people have received unwanted medical advice whether it be from a co-worker, a friend or family. It’s frustrating enough when you have a cold to be told that it would only go away if you did this or took that.
When you have a long term illness it is exhausting to be told that you could ‘cure’ your disease if only you took this random supplement, or got this random treatment. I would love to have a blanket ban on medical advice/homeopathic recommendations from anyone other than my doctors.
Aside from being irritating it can be downright dangerous. Unless you know my full medical history, all the medications I have and how a lot of ‘natural’ medicine interacts with these (I’m looking at you St. John’s Wort) your advice is not welcome. There’s a reason it takes so long to become a doctor.
5. ‘It’s all in your head’
To me this is one of the most upsetting things to be told by someone. Is
there anything more dismissive than being told you are not feeling what you’re feeling.
You’re exaggerating, delusional or just flat out making it up?
What this phrase says to me is that you are a person I cannot come to. You will not be supportive or helpful. This is a far too common thing said to people who are suffering, it can ruin relationships.