I decided to write this after I received a comment on Facebook about yet another home grown “remedy” for migraines, and then right after it came a message to “think positive.” These comments and messages, while filled with good intentions, are a bit annoying. Yet, most of us with chronic illness seem to hear the same things over and over again. Seriously, I think I hear “positive thoughts” in my sleep, along with, “I’ll pray for you.”
So I’ve written this list to help people when they are talking to a chronic illness warrior. Hopefully it helps.
1. Don’t suggest treatments unless asked.
Chances are, we have already tried it and all you’re doing is reminding us that numerous things have failed. Then we likely will be irritated with you because of that reminder – especially if you are not a doctor, an herbalist, or an alternative medicine specialist.
2. Don’t tell us to “think positive.”
There are days many of us can’t be positive. Sometimes we are in so much pain and so sick that all the joy in life may be sucked out of us. It’s OK to be depressed and angry about being ill. Also, being upset once in a while is normal. Do you have positive thoughts every second of every day?
3. Don’t be offended if we don’t talk for a while.
We’re probably not mad at you, we’re not avoiding you personally. We’re sick and as a result we may be too tired to function in society. With social media and texting, communication is easier than ever, but it’s still tiring. Plus, sometimes we’re ticked off at everything and it’s just better for everyone if we keep to ourselves for a while.
4. Don’t change the subject when we start talking about our illness.
We want to talk. We need to talk, but so often our need is shut down. Yes, it is an uncomfortable subject. Most people can’t wrap their heads around the idea of always being sick, but just imagine how uncomfortable we are. Talking helps and we need people to listen to us.
5. Don’t compare your struggles to mine.
All too often I say, “I have a migraine,” and in response someone says, “I get headaches too.” While your headache is miserable, and I’m sorry you have one, it is not a migraine. All your doing is making my struggle seem not that important. Like it’s trivial. Yes, your thing sucks but so does mine and I do not want to be invalidated.
6. Do offer words of encouragement.
We need kind words. For some people it’s what keeps them going. We need to know that someone is with us and is thinking about our daily struggle.
7. If you offer help, follow through.
Saying “if you need anything, let me know” is not enough. You need to actually be there when the person takes you up on that offer. It could be something simple like listening to the person vent or something more complicated like they need help walking the dog. Be there. That is the best thing you can do to help.
8. If there is a brand new thing that just hit the market, let the person know.
When a new migraine medicine hit the market last month, I got a several messages that told me about it. If it wasn’t for those messages I wouldn’t have found out about this brand new drug with amazing results.
9. Offer help.
Often times we am too proud and too stubborn to admit we need help. Offer to do the dishes if you see that they are overflowing the sink. Offer to get groceries if the fridge is empty. Take the kids to the park if the person needs some quiet time. Simple things can make all the difference. A better thing then offering? Just do it. Don’t give us a chance to say “I can do it” which is, by the way, a possibly a lie.
10. Learn our triggers if you’re always around a sick person.
Some of them are unavoidable, like weather. However some common triggers are things like foods. If you’re with someone, help them skirt around triggers. Sometimes we don’t realize when we’re about to eat a giant mouthful of nitrates or gluten. This also helps when you’re cooking for someone or you buy them something. If you buy someone a shirt they may not be able to wear it because the seams hurt, or a lotion you may buy them has too much fragrance. The worse part is, sometimes the sick person will still wear that shirt or use the lotion because you bought it for us and we want you to know that we love the effort.
Getty Image by neyro2008