7 Unexpected Things Not to Say to Your Chronically Ill Friend

We’ve all seen these lists – 10 things not to say to your friend with a chronic illness. I figured I’d tackle the less expected quips that come up in the life of a spoonie.

1. That looks like fun!

Being in a wheelchair, that is. You know what’s also fun? Being able to fucking walk.

2. I never knew love until I had children

Image of Lily Allen sitting at a table. She stirs a coffee cup with an expression of disinterest.

Ah, the old parental moral superiority argument. I guess it is true that all people (actually, just women) who don’t have children are bitter harridans, with the gaping black void where their heart should be sucking in everything within a 2km radius. (That was sarcasm.)

When you make these kind of statements, it helps to think about what you are really saying. In this instance, you imply that women who cannot or choose not to have children can never know love – which we all know is nonsense. (It also suggests that you didn’t love your partner before having children, in which case, I’d suggest seeing a relationship counsellor.)

The chronically ill often struggle with infertility, whether due to the illness itself, medication or a physical inability to raise children. Making them feel like lesser people because of this just rubs salt into the wound.

3. At least you don’t have cancer

A young girl, Wendy from Peter Pan, stares and blinks. Caption reads, internally screaming.

I debated whether to include this on my list as it is actually an incredibly commonly heard phrase among the chronically ill. But I figured if you’re not an ignorant, completely insensitive tool, it might be shocking to learn that some people are so disrespectful of cancer sufferers that they turn them into some sort of immovable object on the sliding scale against which all illnesses are measured.

Offending cancer patients and the disabled. That takes effort! (Or lack thereof.)

4. The government knows the cure for cancer, but suppresses it

A GIF from Futurama. Two men wearing tinfoil hats salute each other by raising their feet to their heads.

Usually followed by, the lizard people run the world but I can protect myself with my tin foil hat and grounding mat.

I honestly didn’t even know cancer conspiracy theories were a thing until about a week ago, when they started popping up on my Facebook feed like an uncontrollable virus (maybe if their proponents believed in vaccines, the plague would be contained). Do I even have to explain why this is so offensive? (If the answer is yes, you’re reading the wrong blog.)

6. I am so OCD/ADD/schizo

As someone who struggles with mental illness, I find it incredibly hurtful that my suffering is appropriated for a description or pejorative by able-bodied people. It is truly perplexing to me why, in 2017, mental illnesses still have so much stigma, shame and disrespect attached to them, compared to physical illnesses. You certainly wouldn’t hear this phrase with a debilitating physical illness substituted for a mental one.

A GIF of a middle aged man, leaning and pointing emphasis. Caption reads, you can fuck that sky high!

I can’t believe I’m quoting Reddit on here, but this poem by Poem_for_your_sprog is really, really good:

‘I have to sort my books!’ she cried,
With self-indulgent glee;
With senseless, narcissistic pride:
‘I’m just so OCD!’

‘How random, guys!’ I smiled and said,
Then left without a peep –
And washed my hands until they bled,
And cried myself to sleep.

7. Enjoy your studies in Melbourne!

This requires a bit of explanation. Before I fell sick, I spent a lot of time volunteering at my church. I wrote reflections, helped with baptisms and communions, helped church friends when they were sick, etc. When I suddenly fell ill and couldn’t perform my duties, I may as well have dropped off the face of the planet, and didn’t see or hear from 99% of my church friends again.

Here comes the weird part: despite knowing full well that I am sick, and have been for some years, many members of my church doggedly maintain the belief that I am, in fact, studying in Melbourne.* Here’s how conversations usually go when I bump into someone from church down the street:

Church person: Hi! How are you doing?
Me: Um, not the best.
Church person: WELL THAT’S GREAT AS LONG AS YOU’VE GOT YOUR HEALTH THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS ENJOY YOUR STUDIES IN MELBOURNE
Me: ???????

Cartoon image of a man with orange hair, Fry from Futurama. Squints into the distance.

 

So that’s what not to say to someone with a chronic illness – not that you would anyway! Next time, I’ll share a few things you can say and do to help your chronically ill friend. Til then!

 

*For this to be true, I would have been studying for 6 years after completing my Bachelor’s. So I suppose they consider me a Dr now?

Author: Siobhan S

20 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic feminist and disability advocate.

14 thoughts on “7 Unexpected Things Not to Say to Your Chronically Ill Friend”

  1. Ahhhh people are so stupid sometimes aren’t they?!
    A mutual friend of a large group was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago (NOT going to say “at least that wasn’t you”!) and one of the group said to me: “I don’t know what to say, so I haven’t said anything.” And I said: “No. You don’t get to do that. Even if all you say is ‘I don’t know what to say, but can I do anything to help’ that’s something.” Yes, I am that friend that tells off other adults.
    But I do think that people are not equipped to deal with what to say in these instances. Education is key! This is an excellent public service announcement. Two thumbs.

    Like

    1. That was a very good call on your behalf. Sometimes people need to be instructed as you say. I’m writing a post of some helpful things people can say and do for their chronically ill friend, to give some ideas. But yes….some people are just irredeemably stupid 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Best blog yet!!! Loved your honesty with an excellent twist of humour and sarcasm, some people really don’t get what they say. Still smiling!!

    Like

  3. The child-love one bothers me soooooooo much!! People are so incredibly ignorant and inconsiderate when it comes to talking about having kids. I don’t get it.

    Like

    1. People can be the worst about having kids. I can’t get over how many people pressure couples (especially newlyweds) to have children! Surely it’s no one else’s business!

      Like

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