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Don’t Say This to Someone with Chronic Illness

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Scranton chapter.

**Trigger warning! This article does contain a joke that someone made to me involving suicidal ideation.**

I am chronically ill. I have multiple disorders diagnosed by doctors. I have received many comments about my health from others. I do not know why so many people feel inclined to make comments about my health, but they do. Here are some things you absolutely should not say to someone with a chronic illness. However, many chronic illnesses are invisible. So maybe just don’t say these things at all to anyone. They are ranked in order from least to most severe.

“Appreciate your health while you’re still young”

This is a seemingly harmless comment, that usually comes from someone who has no idea about my health journey. I may look healthy, but I experience emergency room warranting symptoms daily. My body does not function properly. I find it hard to appreciate that. I don’t think this comment warrants a replacement but keep in mind that it may not be appropriate to share with everyone.

“You’re too young to take all of that medicine”

Honestly, I agree with this comment, but it makes me sad to think about it. It’s expensive and hard to keep track of, but it makes my days bearable. Instead try saying, “It must be hard to keep track of all that medicine, do you have any tips?”

“You’re too young to be in that much pain”

I know I’m too young to be in this much pain. I have a team of doctors trying to figure out why I experience so much pain and how to improve my symptoms. But for now, I simply am in pain. I have to try to accept that it’s a part of me. Instead, try saying, “Is there anything I can do to reduce your symptoms?”

“I wish I had those accommodations”

Accommodations do not give me a leg up, they even the playing field. They give me a chance to succeed. I am very grateful to attend a college that makes it so easy to receive accommodations. Instead, try saying, “Are your accommodations helpful?”

“I wish I had a concussion, so I don’t have to do any homework”

I have had 3 concussions that left me with multiple permanent disabilities. I would’ve rather done the homework. Also, this is a misconception. Even with a concussion you’re not automatically excused from all work, especially in college. Instead, try saying, “Is it hard to manage schoolwork while having a concussion?”

“You don’t look like you have a disability”

I think this comment is meant to be received as a compliment, but I find it far from that. What does someone with a disability look like? Assuming that people with disabilities have to look a certain way is a harmful perspective in my opinion. Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. I feel like I shouldn’t need to look a certain way for my hardships to be accepted. Instead of saying this, maybe just keep that comment to yourself.

“You look so tired, stop yawning all the time”

Chronic fatigue is one of my symptoms. Fatigue is a bit different from tiredness. You can get all the sleep in the world and still have fatigue. I have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up. I have to use multiple sleep aid agents just to fall asleep and even then, I cannot get comfortable. One of the things I miss the most about being healthy is feeling well-rested. Even though I go to bed early and have a consistent sleep schedule, I am still tired. This is another comment that can be kept inside.

“Have you tried this *super obvious treatment that is everyone’s first thought to try*”

When I first open up to people about my chronic illness, they ask me if I’ve tried over-the-counter medicine and seen a doctor. People who have said this to me mean well, but it doesn’t come across nicely. I have tried a lot of medications and seen a lot of doctors, including many specialists. When I confide in people about what I’ve been through I just want them to understand, not make suggestions. Instead try saying, “Have you found a helpful method to manage your illness?”

“At least you don’t have *some other illness that is inherently worse*”

Whom is this helping? I recognize that my experience can always be worse, but this comment minimizes my experience. I may not be on my deathbed, but that doesn’t take away from my experience. Instead try saying, “Thank you for sharing your experience with me, that sounds really difficult.”

“I’d kill myself if I had that”

This one takes the cake for the number one comment not to say. Do I even need to explain why? This implies that someone with my diagnosis doesn’t deserve to live. I don’t have a choice, I just have to adapt. Instead try saying, “That sounds really difficult, but you handle it with grace.”

Throughout my health journey, I have learned a lot about myself and how my chronic illnesses influence every aspect of my life. While it has not been an easy journey, it has made me a more understanding person overall. I don’t expect everyone to get it completely, but a lot of progress can be made with a little bit of compassion and compromise. I hope you gained some insight into my world!

Kirsten Johns

Scranton '26

Hey! My name is Kirsten and I'm an occupational therapy major in the class of 2026. Some of my favorite things are going on walks, reading books, and hanging out with my friends!