The Moving Word

Writer, Preacher, Bookworm, Student of the Word

How to Talk to People with Chronic Illnesses

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by Richard Mansel

People don’t know how to handle things that are different from their own life experiences. They may treat such things with dismissal or derision. However, neither are healthy alternatives when dealing with the human heart.

People with chronic illnesses battle obstacles on a daily basis. Obviously, their health captivates much of their attention and energy. They simply want to be normal. Yet, they usually find themselves alone in a crowded room.

However, a healthy person may see such constant focus as unseemly. The more sympathetic may be embarrassed or uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say or do, and they just wish the situation would go away.

How can we talk to people with chronic illnesses? Initially, let’s see what we must never do.

1. Never belittle their condition.
2. Never compare yourself to them.
3. Never treat them with silence.

People with health problems are by definition, isolated. The healthy are on the move and the sick stay behind.

Everyone wants to be respected and to be seen as having inherent worth. They didn’t ask for their problems and therefore shouldn’t be punished for them any more than they already have.

Respect that they have their condition, and that they’re still the same person. Who they are and what they have are two separate things. If they could get rid of it, they would.

Never compare your situation with theirs. One has nothing to do with the other.

Even within a group of people who suffer from the same condition, there are differences. So, how would it even be sane for a healthy person to think that they can compare themselves to someone who isn’t?

For those who are naturally isolated and looked down upon, they have the persistent temptation to feel inferior, and to see themselves as a bother to everyone.

So when they say something about their health, this is always a backdrop. How can someone who faces a problem every waking minute, not have it enter their conversations? That would be against every human impulse.

Most chronic pain people don’t want pity. If someone loses a leg, their associates feel uncomfortable, but they accept it and work around the problem.

Yet, when this disability is internal, they don’t find the same kind of respect. It’s like the problems we can’t see are somehow wrong.

Sick people have their suspicions about what others are thinking about them. Silence is a void that will be filled and likely not in a healthy manner.

The better option would be to express kindness and respect. If we care about a person and their health is a persistent issue in their life, we should accept it as a matter of course. Allow them to bring their true reality out into the open without the guilt.

In summary, be fair, loving and supportive. Don’t allow fear to prevent your good heart from showing what it can do!

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7 thoughts on “How to Talk to People with Chronic Illnesses

  1. Linda Newsted on said:

    Richard, this is such a good article and one Jim and I will certainly talk about as our lives unfold. We are experiencing big changes and have made decisions to reflect that. We are selling our home and by spring moving to Claude, Texas. It is about 80 miles from Shamrock and will be moving into a small home that hopefully I will be able to take care of instead of this big house. Both our kids. grandchildren, and great-grandson live there and we need the help. I just turned 70 and Jim soon will be 73. We have made decisions that will help us and our children. I am grateful to God for Scott and Melody loving us enough to want to be there for us. We can never be too prideful to accept help when we need it. Our love to you and Deidre.

  2. Richard, I think being a caregiver of someone with Fibro must be an incredibly difficult thing to bear sometimes. I know my hubby often resents having to do the extra things he has to now that I cannot. I do what I can but it’s hard on both of us. Especially since he suffers with chronic pain as well (and now has severe nerve damage from a nasty ankle break in Feb 2012).

    Having Fibro and having to cope with a spouse with it is a very challenging issue in a marriage. But hey, I figure if we haven’t killed each other in the last several years since my diagnosis, we’ll probably make it. 😀

    I’m very grateful that my father and brother are so supportive. Though I know they often struggle with trying to comprehend what it is like to have pain 24/7. I know too that they do not understand how awful and intense that pain is. You know how everyone tends to think “yeah I have aches and pains too”. It’s just not the same, not at all.

    Your advice is well worth reading. Thanks for sharing!

    Shannon @ LivingwithFibromyalgia.ca

  3. As someone who has dealt with chronic pain “the hidden illness” for 26 years, I really cannot thank you enough for your words.

  4. I have DJD and chronic migraines. Everyone either thinks they have the “secret cure” or they say “if it’s that bad, just go to the doctor and get some medicine” or “if you would just lose weight/get more sleep/ exercise more often/drink more water…” Even worse “you’re too young” or “everyone has a backache/headache occasionally.” People don’t understand what it’s like to live with a chronic, idiopathic condition. I wish they would just shut up sometimes.

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