You’ve heard it all before, and you’ll probably hear it again:
“Illness is a mindset.”
“You wouldn’t be so sick if you’d taken care of yourself.”
“Stop being so negative. I’m sure you’ll get well soon.”
“Have you tried yoga for five hours straight? Positive thinking that denies reality? Gorging on multivitamins? Inhaling twenty-five gallons of green tea? Lathering yourself in essential oils?”
Okay, I took some creative liberty with that last one, but you know what I mean. You can fill in the blanks with what you’ve heard before. For people who’ve only dealt with the flu or other brief illnesses (a.k.a. acute illnesses), the concept of an illness that never ends is hard for them to wrap their minds around.
When I was taking a college class recently, the topic of the recent popularity of the gluten-free diet came up. A guy was saying how ridiculous the fad was. Since it was a group discussion, I spoke up about my own experience. I said a few sentences about Celiacs Disease, and that, at least for me, a gluten-free diet isn’t a fad- it’s necessary to stay alive. I was deathly ill before removing gluten from my diet. I thought this information was an appropriate addition to the conversation. One young woman in my class thought otherwise.
“I haven’t been sick since I was six years old.” she looked me in the eyes. “Illness is just a mindset. The pharmaceutical companies sell prescriptions to people who don’t need them. It’s all a scam to make money. All you really need is a positive attitude.”
She rambled on a bit more. My jaw clenched. It took all my willpower not to smack her across the face. I was so furious that I couldn’t find the words to express myself.
I was shocked when the teacher stepped in, saying, “Actually, my daughter has Celiacs Disease, and she was so sick that she was passing out all the time. She could no longer attend school. Doctors just told her it was stress, when, in reality, her diet was killing her.”
That shut my naysayer up- and quite quickly, I might add. As good as that moment felt, it was a bizarre blessing. Every other time my health has been challenged, I’ve been on my own.
So, what do you do with these people? Is there even a good way to respond? With the holidays already here, we’re bound to have to deal with often well-meaning but harmful comments and advice. There’s no catch-all answer to this, but here’s what little I’ve gathered:
1.) Don’t Feed Into It
Some of these people are simply ignorant and don’t mean any harm. You can usually tell they have good intentions when they ask a lot of questions. They’ll be considerate as they know how but probably say the wrong thing a lot. This can be overlooked, because they care, even though they don’t understand.
However, the bigger problem is when someone should know better and doesn’t bother educating themselves. Some, like the lady who snapped at me in class, are looking for a reaction. They like to be in the center of attention, and nothing you say will convince them that their views are incorrect. As infuriating as it may be to listen to them ramble, do not give these type of people the satisfaction of your reaction. It’s one of those pearls before swine kind of things. Don’t waste your breath.
2.) It Probably Won’t Ever Stop Bothering You
I haven’t been well my entire life, but the last six years especially have kicked my butt. I don’t think I can say in all honesty that it hurts any less when I’m disregarded, stigmatized, or put down by people. Doctors do it. Family does it. Even strangers like to add their two cents. A lot of people might say “don’t let it bother you,” but I think that’s unrealistic. You’re human. You have emotions like anyone else. It’s natural to hurt when someone smacks you, and it’s just as natural to hurt when someone belittles you. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sick, either. You don’t simply “get used to it.” It’s normal if comments like these hurt.
3.) Drawing the Line
It’s easier to deal with if you don’t have to see the offender every day. After that semester was over, I never had to see that lady again. What do you do when you have to see this person often? What do we do if they’re family, a co-worker, or a close friend?
It’s up to you where to draw the line. If they’re detrimental to your healing, you’re probably going to have to limit your time with them. Think to yourself, Are there any redeeming aspects to this relationship? Hopefully, outside talking about your health, you still have some common ground.
If you don’t want to (or can’t) limit your time with this person, think about ways to avoid your health as much as possible. If it comes up, make a quick comment like, “Yeah, I haven’t been feeling too well, but I sure am happy to be here today [doing whatever you’re doing.]” Sometimes I’ll simply use the excuse “I’m tired” followed by a quick “but” so they don’t have time to interject their useless advice.
Some people may have earned your trust, and it’s safe to bring up your health in front of them. Others don’t deserve your complete confidence. Keep these toxic people at a distance. They are either incapable of relating with you or don’t want to. Either way, don’t put yourself out there unless you absolutely have to. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but when you can… don’t let past offenders get a foothold in your health life.
In conclusion, there is no perfect answer or response to ignorant people. These are only a few things that have helped me, and I pray that, if nothing else, it reminds all the spoonies out there that you’re not the only one going through this. Christmas seems to bring out the worst in our family dynamics instead of the best at times, and there are bound to be conflicts. At the very least, we can be both grateful to visit with them…and grateful when it’s time to part ways.
If you have any tips or tricks that I missed for dealing with ignorant people, share them in the comments below!