“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” ~Epictetus
If you live with a chronic health problem, chances are that someone has said something to you that showed ignorance or insensitivity. They may have said something insanely stupid to you and you weren’t quite sure how to respond. Below are some common things people sometimes say, along with ways you can respond.
How did you get that?
People ask this about all sorts of illnesses, whether they be infectious ones, cancer, hereditary disorders, accidents or just plain bad luck. The question may simply be from curiosity. More likely the person may really be asking, “Am I at risk for this?”
If you prefer not to discuss your problem, then just say so. However, if you are comfortable, answer the question openly. You may have an opportunity to educate someone.
If you find yourself on the other end of the conversation and curiosity nabs you, a better way to ask this question is, “I don’t want to pry, but if you ever want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.”
You look great.
We all like to look good, but when someone says this to us when we don’t feel well, we feel discounted. However, the intent is usually not to discount but to encourage us. It’s best to give them the benefit of the doubt and reply with a simple, “Thank you.”
If you are talking to someone who has a health problem, you could say, “I know that looks are only skin-deep, but you look great despite being unwell. How do you feel?”
Your problem is you just don’t get enough exercise. Or, if you just ate a better diet…
These sorts of comments don’t help, and may hinder. Sometimes I allow myself an inside joke moment, and think, “And your problem is you are an opinionated busy-body.” Try your best not to get defensive. A good way to end this is to say, “My doctor and I are talking about ways to help me feel better.”
God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.
When someone says this to me, I want to say that I have a hard time imagining a god who is calculating how much I can handle. I just say, “You are probably right.” I figure that people need to believe that sort of thing and they need my affirmation more than I need theirs. And them I quietly plan my revenge for the moment I can say the same idiotic thing in return. But then I don’t, because taking the high road lets me feel obnoxiously morally better about myself. And them I see how arrogant I am, and in the end, I have more work to do on myself.
You should try this supplement I am taking—it cures everything.
I thank them and say that I will mention this to my doctor. They may be on to something, and if so, I can check it out or not check it out.
Everything happens for a reason.
This may or may not be true, but even if it is true, it isn’t soothing. After entertaining myself with an inner thought, “Yes, and what the hell could that reason be? “ I simply end the conversation with, “You are probably right.” And then I go through the process I did for the person who told me that God doesn’t give us more than we handle.
You think you have it bad…so and so died from what you have.
Remarks like this are more frightening than comforting. If I know the person well, I may say, “I know you mean well, but remarks like this frighten me. If you don’t know the person well, avoid saying, “Well aren’t you a well-meaning jerk.” Instead change the subject.
Your problem is that you feel sorry for yourself. Try positive thinking for a change.
I am an optimist, but telling someone else to put a positive spin on something shows lack of compassion and an understanding of medical science. If positive thinking worked, we wouldn’t need doctors. Again, the statement, “You are probably right.” is a good way to move on from that sort of ignorance.
May you encounter only kind and compassionate people as you face troubles…