I have lived with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue for over 30 years now…I recently turned 57. My illnesses include Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis in all my major joints, Myofascial Pain, a spinal condition called D.I.S.H., Gastroparesis, Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia, Diabetes Type 2 and Bipolar Disorder. Most of my illnesses are invisible. To look at me, you would probably think I’m a healthy woman, but in reality, I’m suffering every day, all day. I use a cane for mobility and often a walker, and when the distance is too far, I use a wheelchair. Despite that, I have been on the receiving end of some hurtful comments and I’d like to address them here.
1. “You don’t look THAT disabled – are you sure you need that cane/walker/wheelchair?”
Yes, I’ve actually been asked that. Now, it’s important that you understand I’m a great advocate for myself, and I don’t put up with nonsense like that. My reply was “exactly HOW disabled do I need to be to use these mobility aids?”. They, of course, had no answer for that. Please don’t make comments about our abilities or lack of them. I do what I need to do to keep my body moving. I’m the best judge of my condition and what I’ll benefit from, not you. Unless you’re walking in my shoes, please don’t judge me.
2. “Oh, I’m tired too, I know exactly how you feel.”
Ah, Chronic Fatigue…how I hate you so. And unless you’ve been diagnosed with it, you have no idea what ‘tired’ really is. Chronic Fatigue leaves you so debilitated that you could sleep for 16 hours and still wake up exhausted. You have to rest after having a shower or bath because you’re shaking so badly from the exertion. Chronic Fatigue is like swimming in concrete, every movement takes enormous amounts of energy and the simplest tasks like brushing your hair or washing your hands take effort and concentration.
Don’t forget about things like working or raising kids when you have Chronic Fatigue…you feel like a lousy employee or an unfit parent when you suffer like this. Every task is a Herculean feat and there’s no way to win. Oh, and it’s every day and night too!
3. “Have you tried (fill in the blank)?”
I appreciate that people want to help, I really do. The thing is, I’m desperate to feel better, so I’ve tried everything that’s out there. Every drug, every therapy, every alternative option including CBD products, Essential Oils, Nutraceuticals… you name it, I’ve tried it.
When you make these suggestions to me, you make me feel like I’m not doing enough; and it diminishes the hard work that I HAVE been doing to get well. Again, I know people are trying to help, but just stop it. You’re not helping at all. If you really want to make a difference, ask your loved one or friend with a chronic Illness if there is any research you can do for them in regards to new treatments. That way, you’re not taking control of the person’s health, but you’re still offering to be helpful. And if we say ‘no thank you’, take that at face value and don’t surprise us later with a list of “things” that might help.
4. “Well, you don’t look that sick.”
This goes hand in hand with number one. First of all, how sick do I have to look to satisfy you? Do I need to have dark circles under my eyes, and have greasy hair? Wear sloppy clothes because I’m too ill to care for myself? I may be chronically ill, but I still take pride in my appearance, especially if I’m going to be in public. Sure, it takes effort, but to me, it’s worth it. Some makeup, a nice outfit…it doesn’t take much, but I want to look as good as I can because my illnesses already
5. “When are you going to get better? You’re always in poor health.”
Hmmm, let’s define the word “chronic” for you. It means ongoing, persistent, without end. As in, my Chronic Illness is never going to go away. I may have periods of remission where my body is cooperating and things are better than they have been, but that doesn’t mean the illness has gone away…it just means it’s in remission. At any point, things can change and I could find myself bed-bound. Again.
When you ask a person a question like this, it only serves to depress us. We’d love to get better and live a normal life again, but this is a life sentence that we’ve been handed
I know that people often don’t mean to be rude or ignorant, but sometimes the questions seem to be asked without people thinking first. Please remember that we have been living our lives like this for probably a long time, and we’ve heard it all before. Think before you speak and put yourself in our shoes before you ask a question. Would you want to answer it? If the answer is no, then don’t ask. Just tell us you’re thinking of us and sending good thoughts. We appreciate that the most.
Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at pamelajessen.com She also writes for The Mighty, PainResource.com and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC. She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie.