Advice from Dr. Arthritis: What NOT to Say to People Who Deal With Chronic Pain
We often write about topics that we hope will be helpful for our followers—a community made up of people who suffer from chronic pain caused by arthritis.
Today however, we’re switching things around a bit. We’re speaking directly to those who have people in their lives who have to fight chronic pain and survive it everyday.
We get it—you want them to know that you understand. Except as well meaning as your intentions may be, you probably really don’t. And that’s not your fault. Fact is, it’s hard to grasp the impact and severity of an invisible disease. As far as your own experiences with illness goes, when you get sick, you get treatment from a doctor and it goes away.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with arthritis and other chronic diseases. While it may not affect their appearance, make no mistake, their condition affects their bodies and minds. They feel pain, they feel tired, depressed, anxious, and sometimes, hopeless.
As someone who can’t fully grasp what they’re going through, trying to articulate and capture it in a few words is near impossible. And yet these phrases below continue to be communicated to sufferers. Sure, your heart is in the right place, but it can feel hurtful or dismissive.
1. “…but you don’t look sick.”
Here’s another unfortunate fact about arthritis—it’s not considered a disability despite the fact that flare ups can let you experience pain so severe you can’t even get out of bed. Often, arthritis sufferers have to put up a brave front simply because the world demands it of them.
So while a friend or family member may not look like their joints are grinding against each other with every flick of the wrist or step they take, know that it is happening and they’re just gritting their teeth trying to get through it. Telling them that they don’t look sick can feel like you’re being dismissive or worse, make them think that you don’t believe them.
2. “You’re too young to have arthritis!”
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) sufferers tend to get this one a lot. While the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, comes with ageing and wear and tear of the joints, RA is an autoimmune disease that can affect people of any age. There’s also the fact that juvenile arthritis is a very real thing and there are even studies that say people in their middle age could be suffering arthritis and just not know it.
No one is “too young” to experience arthritis–especially given that there are more than 100 types that can affect people at every age. And when you say this to someone young, it might only serve to make them feel worse about their condition as it emphasizes just how little control they have over the situation.
3. “I understand, everyone gets tired.”
True—everyone at some point in their life has experienced pulling an all-nighter; everyone has experienced being on their feet, possibly doing hard labor, and feeling your muscles and bones ache after.
The difference is that the level of fatigue that arthritis sufferers feel is immense. And this is on top of the pain that they have to endure. Something as simple as going on a night out with friends and staying up late can take a horrible toll on their body—and it will probably take them days to fully recover from the exertion.
They’re tired all the time because it’s common that joint pain keeps them up at night; to say nothing of the anxiety they feel when they start thinking about how their condition prevents them from working or going to school.
4. “Stay positive…it’s just a bad day.”
For all intents and purposes, this phrase is meant to be uplifting and motivational. And while there may be days that arthritis sufferers will appreciate it, it often rubs arthritis sufferers the wrong way.
For a lot of people living with arthritis, simply getting dressed, going out and indulging in any kind of activity, is an achievement. If you find yourself hanging out and having a cup of coffee with a friend who suffers from chronic pain, chances are, they’re having a good day. They managed to get themselves out of bed; they made an effort to see people to overcome the isolation; they’re making strides towards opening up about what they feel. When you tell them that “it’s just a bad day,” you make it seem like all that effort is irrelevant. You’re essentially brushing off the gravity of their situation and the effort they made to be there for you. And instead of being encouraging, you’re achieving the complete opposite.
5. “Hey…at least you don’t have to go to work/ school.”
School and work may seem like a drag….until you realize you actually can’t go.
Arthritis sufferers are not skipping classes and meetings to go on vacation. They’re forced to stay home because they literally can’t go. Losing the option to do something as basic learning in the classroom or earning an income can make them feel hopeless—like they’re losing all control of their life because of their condition. Not being able to go to school or work also adds to the feeling of isolation. Instead of being around people, they’re left to fend for themselves and deal with their condition alone.
You’re probably only trying to get them to see the positive side of the things by saying this, but the truth is—you’re only reminding them of what they’re missing.
When all is said and done, sometimes, the best thing you can say to someone who suffers from arthritis or any form of chronic pain is “I’m here for you.” You don’t always have to offer advice or provide the solution. Simply reminding them that they’re not alone as they go through these life changing experiences is enough to get them through it.