TOUCHED BY LYME: What not to say when someone is sick or in pain
Guest columnist Toni Bernhard, who blogs on the Psychology Today website, says even well-intentioned people may not know how to talk to the chronically ill.
It’s highly improbable that this well-intentioned comment will result in my picking up the phone. You’ve put the ball in my court and I’m unlikely to hit it back, either because I’m too shy, too embarrassed, too proud, too sick—or a combination of the four. I’m not going to call and say, “Can you come over and do my laundry?” But if you call and offer to come over and do it, I’ll gratefully say, “yes”!
“I wish I could lie in bed and watch TV all day long.”
It may sound like this couldn’t possibly have been a well-intentioned comment, but given the tone of voice in which it was said to me over the phone, I’m certain it was. I believe that the hard-working friend who said it was genuinely thinking, “Lucky you to have so much leisure time.” When she said it, I was still so sensitive about being sick—including being worried that people might think I was a malingerer—that tears came to my eyes. Then I wanted to scream, “You have no idea how it feels to be sick and stuck in bed with no choice but to watch TV!” Instead of screaming, I mumbled something and got off the phone as soon as I could because I could feel the sobs coming—as they did as soon as I hung up.
“Disease is a message from your soul, telling you that something is wrong with your True Self.”
This is an excerpt from one of dozens of emails I’ve received from people trying to diagnose and/or cure me. I must admit that I have no idea what that sentence means. Are the soul and the True Self different entities, and the one that is okay is sending a message to the other one saying that something’s wrong with it? Bottom line: This is not helpful! Oh, and another person said she’d assist me to get my health back—free of charge—by showing me how to do soul retrieval. Sigh.
“The third cousin of my brother-in-law’s sister’s best friend had what you have and said she got better by drinking bottled water.”
“Have you tried sleeping pills?”
Sleeping pills? Who hasn’t tried sleeping pills? Even healthy people do! Sleeping pills may be helpful for some people, but they are not a cure for chronic pain or illness. And while we’re on the subject of “Have you tried…” If it’s available by prescription, I’ve tried it. If it’s available as a supplement, I’ve tried it. If it’s available as a Chinese herb, I’ve tried it. If it’s available at all, the odds are very high: I’ve tried it.
“Just don’t think about it.”
This comment left me speechless…but still thinking about “it.”
“Aren’t you worried that you’re getting out of shape from living such a sedentary lifestyle?”
Uh…yes. Thanks for reminding me.
“Have you Googled your symptoms?”
Let me count the ways.
“At least you still have your sense of humor.”
Thanks, but I’d rather be known as humorless but healthy.
Stay tuned. My next piece: What Those with Chronic Pain or Illness DO Want to Hear You Say.
© 2012 Toni Bernhard
Toni Bernhard is the author of the How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers, winner of the 2011 Gold Nautilus Book Award in Self-Help/Psychology. Website: www.howtobesick.com