When someone around you is suffering from a chronic illness, especially something like celiac, Chron’s, or other autoimmune, metabolic, and digestive disorders, it can be difficult to know what to say to make them feel better.
Which is why I decided to make this little tact guide to help you with that wicked question every good friend and family member wonders when they see someone they love suffering: what do I say?!?
Having had many a convo with such good friends and family members, I can honestly say that whatever comes from an honest and caring place is usually sufficient enough. There’s no “right” or magic thing that will make someone feel better. This is actually kind of good news because what you say, can‘t really make them feel better…and often times what you think might help actually, well, doesn’t. If all the medicine in the world can’t do the trick, why put that pressure on yourself? Instead, why don’t we shy away from saying some of these things. Let it be clear that I don’t mean this in any kind of snarky or critical way. I’m just sharing things that people have said out of pure compassion and loving that, well, may not be super tactful:
1. “Well, you look fine/You don’t look sick” — Yes, great, but I feel like shit. So like, cool.
2. “At least you don’t have to worry about getting fat” – I mean, yes…..
3. “Wow! You’ve gained weight!” – recovery often means gaining weight back after flare ups. Yes, this is a good thing, but would you want someone to say that to you? Sickies are people too!
4. “Can you eat ________? I made this for you.” – at parties or events it’s tempting to take care of your friends and accommodate their potential food restrictions. While the intention is clearly good, it can often lead to disappointment on both of your parts. You could think that you’ve made something perfect for them only to find out that they can’t eat x,y,z and then everyone feels bad. No good. Instead, try talking to them beforehand and talk about things that they could bring.
5. “Just try a bite.” – …….and have a stomach and body ache for days?
6. “It must be stress-related” – Yes, many diseases have links to stress, and stress certainly exasperates many illness BUT it is also extremely stressful to deal with a chronic illness. It can be kind of perturbing for someone to reduce your chronic and complicated illness to one thing like stress, which usually comes from some kind of insinuation that you’re making it worse in your head. Believe me, it’s bad enough in your body.
7. “My sister’s boyfriend’s aunt’s nephew had what you had and stopped eating x,y,z and is totally fine.” — I mean….good for him? It’s great to offer success stories and potential remedies, but when you’ve tried ten thousand different treatments with ten thousand different doctors, chances are your friend has already tried it. Perhaps wait until they ask for potential advice before you offer it up. Just to be safe.
What can you say?
Say you love your friend. And support him or her in any way. Tell them they are strong, which they are, and that you are always there for whatever support they need. Tell them to tell you what they need and tell them that you will do everything in your power to stay loyal and true to your friend. That, I swear, is more powerful than any medicine, surgery, treatment, or miracle cure out there.
Just love. That’s all.