Things never to say to someone with chronic illness or chronic pain
- Aren’t you Glad it isn’t Worse?
- I mean, at least it’s not… cancer.
- It isn’t like your liver fell out.
- Not like your kidney’s exploded or anything.
- I mean, aren’t you grateful that it isn’t spleen implosion?
- I can see why you think you have it bad but it’s not like you spontaneously combusted.
- At least you’re not a zombie craving brains you can’t get.
- Frankly, I don’t see why you are complaining about pain, it isn’t like you broke every bone in your body.
- I mean, it can’t be that bad because you, like, still exist.
Okay, so stop telling people it could be worse. Yeah. It could be worse. It can always be worse. But it sure as hell could be better.
We are aware it could be worse. We tell ourselves this sometimes to get through. Hell, sometimes worse happens and we are laid out. So we know worse is always a possibility. So you don’t need to tell us this because we are very aware of worse.
But it isn’t just that you don’t have to tell us this… you really, really shouldn’t tell us this.
Invalidating our experience
You’re basically saying ‘Hey, you don’t have it bad compared to literally any random hellish scenario I can come up with, therefore your experience isn’t really worthy’. It isn’t about how worse it could be. It is about our experience with how bad it actually is and coping with that. And, hell yeah, it is damn hard to constantly deal with this. To say our experience isn’t as valid because it isn’t the worst case scenario is hurtful, man.
Who does this? I mean, if you have the flu I don’t say ‘At least it isn’t malaria. So suck it up’. No, I have sympathy or empathy.
You are not making us feel better by pointing out what is worse. You are making us feel like our experience isn’t valid.
Diminishing our suffering
Similar to the first point, basically this diminishes the suffering we are actually in. And we may not be coping well at all. So pointing out it could be worse just erases the fact we are suffering. Acknowledging our experience and our struggle is better than diminishing our experience of suffering altogether.
We are always told to push through. And when you tell as ‘at least it isn’t something worse’ you are making us feel guilty for not being able to do things and not being functional enough. And as a result, we may try to push beyond our limits and if we do that long enough… it will be worse, much worse. Guilt can be killer. We immediately think that person is telling us we should be able to function… because it isn’t worse. So we should feel guilt and shame for not being able to function. And that is bullcrap.
Also, by the way, this can turn back on you
We could tell you the same thing. I worked with a woman who had occasional migraines. Often she would go home when she did. I have chronic migraines, therefore I couldn’t go home, I had to push through and work. If she had a migraine I could have been a dick about it, eh? “Well, at least they are not every damn day, like me, so suck it up, buttercup” But I wouldn’t do that. Because you know what? I know they suck. And when I was episodic I also would go home and crash to get rid of a migraine. And I am very aware the rules change with chronic pain… that is no longer acceptable behaviour. It certainly doesn’t take away my empathy for that type of insane pain. And I see this from time to time from people. Comparing pain and one-upmanship. At least your pain doesn’t suck as much as my pain. Well, pain sucks. So we all win.
The point is, all of us with chronic illness could also point out how much worse things could be in your life too. And that wouldn’t make you feel Heard about the problem or experience you are having. It would make you feel distinctly like you are complaining. And maybe that I was a dick to brush off your experience. Because, yeah, it is a bit dickish.
We all get that when people say this they do not mean to make us feel like we are not being heard for the experience we are having at that moment. What you mean is… hey it could suck More. So count our blessings. Be grateful. Be thankful. And that really just diminishes what we are feeling. When I have struggled the most in my life and heard this sort of thing it really hurt. Because I wasn’t coping well at all. And then I would think there must be something wrong with me that I can’t cope well. And that I should just really, really push through and function like a normal human being. And I got worse. And worse. So don’t tell me it could be worse. Not when I am not coping well and my actions and your words could lead to… worse.
I’m sorry but I do loathe this. It isn’t something we do in everyday life but we feel for some reason it is totally cool to tell someone who is chronically ill how grateful they should be they are not in some worse scenario. In no other facet of life is that a cool thing to do. No, we listen. We empathize. We may try to help them out or just be there for them. So it isn’t the worst thing that could have ever happened to them… it is a bad experience and they are suffering. But somehow when your experience is a permanent state of affairs people try to cheer you up by pointing out how much worse it could be. Gee, thanks.