What NOT To Say To Someone When They Are Dealing with an Ongoing Medical Condition

I’ve been contemplating this post for a while, and I decided to finally write it. Because I’ve gotta tell you. Living with an ongoing medical issue is an interesting experience.

For those of us who are generally healthy, I think it’s hard to relate to people dealing with ongoing illnesses or injuries that we don’t entirely understand. On some level, I think we wonder if they are exaggerating the situation or if they are truly doing all they can to fix it. And eventually we might even get tired of hearing about it.

Trust me, folks. If YOU are tired of hearing about it, imagine how the person LIVING the situation feels.

Well-meaning people often say really insensitive things to people going through struggles. And I’m sure I’ve been that well-meaning person saying the wrong thing at times. I do have away of sticking my foot in my mouth so perhaps that is what I’m supposed to learn from this. Or maybe I can help others by sharing my experience.

I'm having a moment

The last thing you want to do when someone is going through an on-going injury or living with a chronic medical condition is make the person feel like it’s their fault. I mean, sometimes it MAY even be that person’s fault, but more often than not, it’s due to circumstances beyond their control, or is the result of ordinary activity that wouldn’t normally injure someone. And yet, for some reason, when people get sick or have ongoing issues, I think it’s normal to start to wonder what they’re doing wrong. I know I’ve had that attitude about others in the past. They must be doing SOMETHING to cause this… it’s just not normal.

Well, yeah, we live in a fallen world, and our bodies do fail us sometimes — even despite our best intentions. It’s sort of ironic that I find myself in this situation just when I thought I was in the best shape of my life. I eat right, I exercise, I get my sleep, and I preach this stuff all the time. I think I thought on some level I was invincible.

My case is weird because I’m actually dealing with multiple injuries that I’m not even sure are related except that they are both affecting my feet so it stands to reason that everything goes back to my short-lived running hobby. Ironically, I haven’t been running AT ALL and I somehow have injured myself AGAIN, so there has to be something else at play here.

I have been in physical therapy for year, I have seen two physical therapists and one chiropractor, and I’m on my second orthopedist. I am EXHAUSTED just thinking about it. And no matter what I do, and no matter what activities I give up, I am still getting injured. It is baffling. And that is often the hardest part of any trial, the frustration of the unknown. You can’t prevent something if you don’t know what’s causing it. And the waiting, and the tests, and the more waiting… it’s enough to drive anyone insane.

If the last thing you want to do is make the person feel that it’s their fault, the NEXT to the last thing you want to do is to tell them what to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I welcome advice. Maybe there is someone out there who has some insight that everyone else has overlooked. If so, I’m happy to hear it. But there’s a fine line between offering advice and being bossy.

I’m fortunate that everyone in my life is sympathetic and kind. I am not directing this post at anyone, and it’s not intended to be a rant. But probably just about everyone out there knows someone going through something frustrating, and I truly hope this helps us all think twice before we speak.

I know people mean well, and I think we all want to say the right thing and do what we can to help, but we often don’t know what that is.

The best thing you can do for someone going through trying times is to be there to listen, check in on them, send the a note or card letting them know you care, and most of all, support them and their quest for answers and solutions. If you’re close enough, offering to help take the kids for an afternoon or making a meal can be such a blessing.

I’m so thankful that my kids are old enough to fend for themselves. I am fine; we really don’t need help. But I remember well a time when I was sick with my 3rd pregnancy, and I had friends who would come take my kids and bring a meal for my family. Those gestures mean more than you can ever know.

Life is messy, I know that much. It’s hard to know when to step in and when to give people their space. When in doubt, ask. And if it’s a really good friend, just jump in and do something. Bring a meal or send a card. I know when people have done that for me in the past, I have been super appreciative.

Today I finally get the results of that MRI. I’ll keep you posted.

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8 Responses

  1. Wise words. All you have to do is have a little overwhelming trouble in your life, and you find all this to be true. We really don’t understand other people’s lives. The most surprising person will give the most apt words — extremely helpful — simply b/c they have gone through a similar time in their lives. Joni Tada wrote once that you can give good advice and meaningful support to a person who is going through a trouble you have experienced, or one of a lesser severity that is similar in type. Otherwise, you should just keep your mouth shut 🙂 I think THAT’S the really hard thing to do!

  2. Great post. I really do believe don’t understand what it’s like to live with a chronic medical condition…especially when you don’t really look “sick.” It’s very difficult. I really do hope you can find a solution to your foot problems.

  3. SO true. All of it. During the years I was in a wheelchair, it was so simple for people to realize how bad things were, but once I improved enough to walk, so many people magically think I’m all “better” and don’t really get the daily limitations. And it doesn’t help the fact that when I do see people, I try to be “on” because I hate being one of those sick people. But then again… I was so judgmental before about people and illnesses, that I do understand where they’re coming from. Doesn’t really make it any easier though, does it?

  4. Can I add another thing NOT to say? I dislike when people compare problems. For example, when I had bronchitis, someone said, “Well, at least you don’t have cancer.” Yes, I know cancer is much worse than bronchitis, but that didn’t help me feel better! Okay rant over! 🙂

    In all seriousness, I do hope you find a solution to your foot problems. I’m really sorry you are going through this.

    1. LOL. Funny, because I compare EVERYTHING to cancer. That is always the first thing I say after I finish complaining, I know I shouldn’t complain… it’s not cancer or anything. Ha. But what I’m learning is, there are many ways to suffer, and usually the ways we end up suffering are not the ones we spent all that time worrying about.

  5. My husband has a chronic brain tumor and luckily everything anyone has ever said to us has come from a place of love and concern. The only thing I don’t like is when people tell me stories about someone they knew who had a brain tumor and (long story short for the sake of this comment) everything is fine now! The truth is, everything may turn out fine for us but it may not, there is no way of knowing. So when people do that, it is the only thing that bothers me a little bit, but I don’t hold it against them or anything. A lot of people don’t know what to say and really just want to offer help and encouragement. I am very thankful for that!

  6. Poor dear… I can relate to foot problems, although not as severe as yours. I have fallen arches which makes it very difficult to wear anything but “comfort” shoes, which aren’t always the most trendy or stylish. This was a very good article about what not to say to folks dealing with medical issues.

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