In our last blog post, we talked about chronic illness and different ways to live with it. This post will focus on how to be sympathetic to those in your life who are living with chronic illness.

When someone you know is living with a chronic illness, it might be difficult for you to always understand them or their actions. Even though you probably mean well, some of the comments you make might come off as insensitive. Here are a few things to stop saying to people who live with chronic illness and why:

“You don’t look sick.”

Not all illnesses can be seen on the outside of the body. Looks are irrelevant. Age is irrelevant. Just because a person is young doesn’t mean that they aren’t plagued with chronic pain. When you tell someone they don’t look sick or that they are too young to be sick, it can make them feel guilty or embarrassed for having an illness they have no control over.

“Must be nice having a few days off work/school.”

Taking a sick day isn’t “nice.” It means being in so much pain that even getting out of bed is excruciating. Most people with chronic pain would love to have the ability to work full forty-hour weeks. Chronic sufferers also typically don’t know how they will feel day to day. Their pain can come on in an instant. It’s one of the most frustrating components of chronic pain.

“You still aren’t feeling better?”

More than anything, chronic sufferers would like to answer “yes, I feel all better,” but chances are, they might not ever feel 100%. By asking this question, you can make your friend feel guilty for being sick. Chronic sufferers often feel guilty for the way their illness impacts others.

“Are you sure it’s chronic?”

This question is typically followed by “maybe you’re just under a lot of stress” or “you’re just anxious” or “it’s all in your head.” It’s rude to say such a thing to a person who is in obvious pain. Don’t call your friend a hypochondriac or imply that they’re imagining or making up their symptoms for attention. Their illness is a real thing.

When someone tells you that they are dealing with a chronic illness, listen to their symptoms, their concerns, and the treatments they are trying. Be empathic, and let them know you want to help. Maybe you can support them by driving them to an appointment, to the grocery store, or bringing dinner to them.

Invisible Disabilities Association has a wonderful website devoted to helping those with invisible illnesses. It also has information to help others understand what chronic sufferers go through.

To set up an appointment with Reka, you can reach her by phone at 402-881-8125 or by email at You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

photo credit: PSU Fri Feb 10, 2012 534 via photopin (license)