Please just stop saying these things – they’re not helping.
If you have a chronic condition, the chances are you’ll have heard these phrases a lot. While many are designed to be empowering, they’re often patronising. So here’s what not to say to someone with a chronic illness.
“You look good for it”.
This is not helpful. A lot of chronic conditions can be draining and they can mean either losing weight or putting on weight. If we lose weight, that isn’t worthy of praise whatsoever and by commenting on our looks you’re contributing to fatphobia as well as dismissing the conditions we live with. If we put on weight, that again does not lessen our worth. Chronic conditions aren’t a lifestyle fad so we can look hot. A lot of the time, we can feel anything but good about ourselves due to societal ableism.
“You’re so brave”.
This is one of the most insipid statements that contributes nothing, except it further ‘others’ disabled people. Bravery doesn’t come into it. We just live our lives and manage our health the best we can, same as anyone else. We’ve never had much say in the matter.
Disabled people don’t exist to inspire you – disabled people are just trying to live their lives in a society that is often far from supportive. Our identities aren’t your inspo-porn.
“I can’t imagine how difficult things are for you.”
They’re made more difficult by having to sit through ten minutes of these patronising conversations. Managing a chronic illness can be difficult at times, yes. For a lot of people, it can be difficult a lot of the times. It doesn’t help when people talk down to us. Yet, a great many chronically ill people manage their lives just fine and don’t need pity.
It’s not a battle. It’s just something to live with and manage every day. Framing it as a fight doesn’t help, particularly for those who are struggling to live with their conditions as this means they are painted as someone who is weak.
What you can say instead…
“Is there anything I can do?”
It’s actually rare for many people to take others up on this offer, because it’s easy for chronically ill people to feel as though they are a burden (and so don’t be surprised if your chronically ill friend may go quiet on you from time to time). However, it is an offer that helps and it lets people know that they aren’t alone. Do not just ask this randomly though. This is for when someone is having a bad pain day, or maybe their anxiety is playing up. Don’t assume anyone ever needs you dressed as a knight and riding in on a white horse.
“How should we change our plans?”
Sometimes plans which were no problem can suddenly become an accessibility nightmare. This may mean adjustment. Please, also don’t just say “I’m good with whatever” because then the onus falls on chronically ill people to make the plans and this can increase feelings of guilt. Be proactive and work out what can be changed, or what activities can be switched. Actively try to include chronically ill people, don’t just sit back.
People who have chronic conditions may need to cancel events last minute, or may not always be available or have the spoons for even the group chat. There’s a lot of guilt that can come with being disabled due to needing spoons and having to face the prospect of repeatedly cancelling on people. Assure those with chronic conditions that you understand, that there is no reason to feel guilt and that having such a condition does not diminish their value in your life.
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