If you live with a chronic illness, you may be familiar with some of the “harmless” comments people make to those who are struggling. Oftentimes these remarks from family and friends are well-intentioned, but a lack of understanding about the condition and how it affects you may result in their statement totally missing the mark.
When someone opens up about their chronic illness, they likely aren’t looking to you for medical advice or a “solution” – and they probably aren’t expecting you to be able to fully relate or know exactly what they’re going through if you don’t have a chronic illness yourself. In many cases, they may just be looking for a friend to lend an ear and remind them that someone has their back.
We wanted to know what “harmless” comments people with chronic illness have heard that actually hurt them, so we asked our Mighty community to share one with us and explain what it feels like to hear it.
It’s important to remember that even well-intended comments can be hurtful and damaging. Regardless of what anyone says, your illness and your experiences are valid, and you are deserving of understanding and support.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. “You don’t look sick.”
“‘You don’t look sick.’ We’ve all heard it. We all know it stings like hell. Especially on those days where it took everything you had just to get out of bed.” – Megan C.D.
“‘But you look fine!’ When I had migraines, I was young and fit with a fast metabolism so it was really easy for people to conflate how I looked with how I felt and not take my concerns seriously. If I was out and didn’t feel well and wanted to go home, it would be hard for even my own family to get it because I looked fine. I had to drag myself through so many situations because people just refused to get it.” – Ami C.
2. “You’re too young to be that sick.”
“‘You’re too young to be hurting already.’ It’s very invalidating and leads me to think that people don’t believe I’m in pain because of my age.” – Kristina K.L.
“I was 38, the ER doctor says, ‘You can’t be having a heart attack, you’re too young.’ I was definitely having a heart attack due to lupus attacking my heart. My now ex-husband, a registered nurse, pitched a fit. They ended up life-flighting me to a larger hospital.” – Sierra B.
3. “I know how you feel.”
“‘I went through something similar. I know how you feel.’ No you don’t. You have no idea how I feel right now, just as I have no idea how you felt. Our circumstances can’t and shouldn’t be compared. There are other ways to express your empathy – this isn’t one of them.” – Kaylynn C.
“‘I can’t get rid of this cough! I’ve had it for days! I know how you feel now!’ I have cystic fibrosis.” – Ashley F.
4. “I wish I had your illness so I could lose weight, too.”
“‘I wish I had what you have so I could lose weight.’ This was when my gastroparesishad started and I lost [a lot of weight]. I looked awful and felt awful and the idea someone would think that having the feeling of a toxic waste plant in your stomach was somehow preferable just so they could lose weight… I could barely keep any food down and was malnourished, my skin was awful because of all the toxins building up in my stomach and my hair was falling out, but hey, whatever it takes to be thin, right? Ugh. Incredibly inconsiderate comment. Still irritates me.” – Janelle F.
“I am tube fed and have no stomach. So people are always saying, ‘You look so good, you must feel great.’ I have lost lots of weight, but not in a good way. It’s hard to tell people ‘no, I don’t feel well, I have a chronic disease and weight loss was not the goal.’ I know they are trying to be nice, but makes me self-conscious.” – Elisabeth W.
5. “At least you don’t have…”
“‘At least you don’t have…[illness]. You should be grateful.’ While yes, I’m grateful that isn’t the case, that shouldn’t take away from what I do suffer with. I get it that yes there will always be someone that has it worse, but that doesn’t mean I don’t suffer too. Saying things like that is so disheartening to hear. Especially when it’s so hard to get doctors to validate what you’re going through too. I know they mean well, but honestly it’s an awful thing to say to anyone with a chronic illness.” – Ashley M.
“‘At least you don’t have (insert whatever other horrible illness/condition).’ I see what they mean, but it just seems like downplaying what your condition is. Yes, I’m aware I could be worse, but that doesn’t mean I need to be doing jumping jacks about my incurable chronic illnesses.” – Nat K.
6. “It’s all in your head.”
“My sister repeatedly tells me, ‘It’s all in your head!’ Her septuagenarian doctor doesn’t believe in fibromyalgia, therefore I don’t have it.” – Kathleen B.
“‘You’re faking it. It’s all in your head.’ These came from family members and doctors.” – Jolie H.
7. “You just need to push through.”
“‘You need to just push through.’ I am thankful to still be able to work during the weeks, which basically means my weekends consist of playing ‘catch up’ on energy and sleep. My friends and family still always tell me to ‘push through’ when I mention needing to rest or cancel on plans. In some ways, it feels like they’re not validating my illness or condition. I realize that they don’t understand what having a chronic illness feels like or consists of, but it would be nice to be reassured that it’s OK to cancel plans to rest and recuperate from the week every once and awhile.” – Lauren D.
8. “It’s nice that the government pays your bills for you.”
“‘You’re on social security, right? It is good that the government pays your bills for you.’ Um, hello! Social Security is not welfare or a handout! I worked my butt off and have private disability insurance that helps pay my bills now. I did the right thing and had a great job with great benefits. That is why I can still pay bills on social security. Oh, and to get social security at the age of 35, you have to be really sick for them to approve it, so don’t question my pain levels. Social security is not welfare!” – Janine T.
9. “Have you tried…? This friend of a friend of mine did and cured themselves!“
“‘Have you tried exercise (or PT, herbal remedies, more sleep, fad diet, etc.) for your condition? This friend of a friend of mine did and cured themselves!’ I’ve been sick for 23 years. Do you really think I haven’t tried almost anything you, a non-medical professional, can think of to help me? And if your friend-of-a-friend could be cured of chronic incurable diseases, then odds are they didn’t actually have that disease to begin with. I try to not take it personally or get offended because most people are genuinely trying to be helpful, but I can’t help but let it really get to me sometimes. Makes me feel like people don’t think I try hard enough.” – Kristen M.
“‘I’m sure if you go on a diet or have a detox, you’ll get better.’ Unfortunately, people don’t understand that chronic illness does not go away. These comments make it feel like they don’t listen when we explain our illness.” – Amy L.
10. “I know someone with that condition and they’re fine, so it must not be that bad.”
“‘Well [insert name here] at work has it and they’re fine so it can’t be that bad,’ or some variation of this. Not everybody deals with illness the same, not everybody is affected the same and not everybody responds to the available treatments the same.” – Georgie R.
11. “You shouldn’t focus so much on your pain.”
“‘You always bring up your pain’ (which I don’t). ‘You shouldn’t focus on it.’ This really upsets me because I have severe full-body chronic pain that never goes away. It’s 24/7. I’ve had this pain since I was 8 years old, however it has only gotten worse since time progresses. I overcome a lot to try to function like a ‘normal’ human, so saying that I always bring up my pain, when really I just bring it up in passing conversation every once in a while, makes me feel defeated and a little lonely.” – Amy C.
“‘I have back pain, and I don’t pay to much attention to it. You should do the same.’ – A medic friend.” – Saúl V.R.
12. “You’re lucky you don’t have to work.”
“‘You’re so lucky to be able to stay at home and not have to work, it’s a luxury to live like a queen.’ This came from an ex-coworker, the day after I quit, because I could no longer work and manage my chronic pain.” – Monica G.
“‘It must be nice to not have to work.’ I do need to work. Mentally and financially I need to work, but I can’t.” – Christine T.E.
“When someone found out I wasn’t allowed to work anymore: ‘Well you’ve got it made, haven’t you?’ Was all the more hurtful as it was said by someone who knew me very well and had seen me at my worst. Felt like a kick in the teeth.” – Gemma C.
13. “You let your pain define you.”
“‘You let your pain define you.’ Yes I do. Because if I don’t, then things get worse. My pain has shaped who I am dramatically since I got sick. I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I wouldn’t know how strong I could get without it. I wouldn’t know how much I can take without it. But this comment… It just came across like all I do is let my pain control and ruin my life.” – Kristin M.K.
14. “Just think positive.”
“‘If you thought positively it would stop hurting…’ This actually made me glad at how misshapen my spine looked on the X-ray, so it was clear it really wouldn’t!” – Gabbie J.
“‘If you would just have a better attitude and more positive outlook…’ and ‘You really need to pray more, go to church more, etc.’ Gee, thanks. Are you kidding me?! Sigh…” – Wendy J.
15. “It must be nice to be able to take naps.”
“I have narcolepsy and sleep a lot. When I tell people I take naps during the day they tell me they want to have that luxury. It’s not a luxury but a necessity and it proves that understanding a person with a chronic illness is difficult. It doesn’t hurt me anymore, I just need a different way to explain my situation.” – Ingel B.
“‘It must be nice to be able to take a nap.’ This one, meant to be harmless, always feels like a punch in the face. I don’t want to take a nap – I want to keep going through my day but I physically can’t. My body shuts down to the point where I can’t even sit upright or fall asleep where I’m at. It’s an exhaustion different from normal tiredness. Please try to understand that. While I believe you are tired, it is not the same as mine. My body is sick 24/7 and is constantly fighting against me. I don’t have a choice in taking naps.” – Kayla K.
16. “You would feel better if you got out of bed and did something.”
“‘You would feel better if you got out of bed and did something.’ Pretty sure I would only feel better if the debilitating pain I was feeling would go away.” – Sahrish R.
“‘You should exercise, it will make you feel better.’ Exercise can cause my pain levels to go to the extreme and send me into a flare-up of awful symptoms. It’s not that easy and feels like a double-edged sword.” – Jenny W.S.
17. “You’re such an inspiration.”
“‘You’re such an inspiration’ made me so angry when I was in a wheelchair and unable to speak and had to use sign language to communicate. [I was] too weak to feed or dress myself, let alone parent my kids. I didn’t want to be an inspiration. I wanted to be well 24/7 and out of pain and be able to be a proper mum and go back to work and enjoy life. It really made me think people liked me being so ill, that it made them feel better about themselves, so I should carry on suffering because it made them feel good.” – Holly V.M.
18. “Feel better soon!”
“‘Feel better soon!’ Umm thanks but this isn’t the flu. I’m not just going to bounce back.” – Carolyn L.
“‘I’m sure you’ll be feeling better soon.’ I wish, but that’s just not how chronic disease works.” – Courey S.