How to Talk to People with Chronic Illnesses
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!