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I never know what to say!

-Learning How to Encourage and Help Someone with a Chronic Condition

Written by Sherri L. Connell, BA, Copyright ©1997, Revised 2002, The Invisible Disabilities Advocate

This article contains excerpts from the booklet “But You LOOK Good: A Guide to Understanding and Encouraging People with Chronic, Debilitating Illness and Pain!”

Have you ever wanted to encourage someone with a chronic illness, but it seems like you never know what to say? Moreover, when you finally think of something you just know will make them smile, do they snap back at you with frustration?

Well, you are not alone. Because we truly want to help our friend or family member with a chronic condition, we often try to think of just the right words we can say to make all of the pain vanish from their life. If we can just “fix it” then we will not have to see them suffer anymore. Unfortunately, when we do try to come up with a quick answer, we often end up saying something that seems to irritate or offend our loved one.

It is difficult to understand why they got upset, because to us what we had to say should have been helpful. Nonetheless, if we could simply jump into the life of our loved one, then we would see why our well-meaning comments were not so well-received. Often, it is our intention to help them “see the bright side” of their situation, so they can realize it is “not that bad.” The problem is that we have then failed to acknowledge their battle is very real and we have gone on to minimize its impact.

Sometimes we even try to point out another person who is “worse off” or try to relate by saying, “Ya, I am tired too.” Often, we disregard their limitations by attempting to talk them into doing what they know they cannot or should not do. Because we forget how anguishing is it to be ill and laid up, sometimes we even try to tell them “how lucky” they are to not have to work or clean their house.

What’s more, we cannot resist acting as if solving the problem is so simple when we exclaim, “why can’t you just take this or do that?” Likewise, we want so badly for them to be feeling better, that we refuse to hear the truth and do not allow them to be open and honest with us about what they are going through.

Besides not knowing what to say, we often do not know what to do. We often wish we could do something to help, but do not even know where to start. Our own lives can be so overwhelming and busy that we could never fathom having the time to run arrands, do chores and help clean someone else’s home too!

Nevertheless, what we fail to realize is that what might seem like an insignificant effort to us, may save our loved one an entire day or even week’s worth of energy. For example, just picking up a few things at the store while we are already there and taking out the trash when we drop them off does not take much of our time, but it can make a world of difference to them!.

In all, we can never fully comprehend what it is like to have a chronic condition, with all of the loss and pain it poses. Yet, we know we would not want to feel this way ourselves, so surely we can see what courage our loved one displays! We can even try to remember what it is like to have to put our lives on hold for even just a few days and tell our loved ones how amazed we are at their strength and perseverance!

People with chronic illness/pain would never choose to willingly give up activities they used to enjoy! In fact, they would do just about anything to get their lives back! Therefore, we can rest assured, knowing they will keep fighting, researching and pursuing ways to regain their lives or at least prevent further progression of the disease.

Yes, accepting what is happening to a loved one means having to deal with all of its pain, mourning and changes, but do not sell yourself short! After all, if they are forced to live with it, we can certainly choose to live next to it!


This article contains excerpts from the booklet,“But You LOOK Good: A Guide to Understanding and Encouraging People with Chronic, Debilitating Illness and Pain!”

This booklet explains how a person can be damaged by an illness and/or injury on the inside, but still “look fine” to others on the outside. It gives detailed suggestions of “what not to say” and explanations as to why. In addition, the booklet provides many examples of “what to say” to be an encouragement and offers practical “ways to help.”

For ordering information and to read more articles written by Sherri, visit The Invisible Disabilities Advocate at: Please contact IDA for permission to distribute or publish this article.


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National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week ™ is an official annual campaign sponsored by Rest Ministries
in collaboration with other sponsors. All information is Copyrighted, 2008, however, copies can be made and freely distributed as designed for and intended for advocacy partners for the purpose of representing National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week ™. If you have any questions, please email us for clarification.