What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Sick

During the last month, I haven’t been feeling amazing. I’ve experienced a totally unexplained increase in MS symptoms. This is very perplexing since I’ve stuck to my routine one hundred percent. I’ve religiously engaged in all of the healing protocols and therapies that have always worked. That includes HBOT, IVs, Keto Diet, daily walks, healthy amounts of sleep, and gentle movement.

What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Sick

One thing that keeps coming up while I’m resting and recuperating is dealing with people while I’m ill. How people react when you don’t feel well can be a very tricky thing. While everyone means well, not everyone knows the most appropriate thing to say. That’s why I’m writing this guide on What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Sick.

Best of Intentions in a Tricky Situation

In my experience, people have the best of intentions and no one wants to say something hurtful. But when we are sick, we feel uncomfortable in our bodies, and our friends and loved ones can pick up on that. They may even internalize our discomfort and feel off balance themselves.

You’re So Lucky!

When I start to feel an increase in symptoms, the first thing I do is increase rest and decrease stress. I cancel as much as I can so that I can listen to my body and rest when I feel tired. Still, a month later I’m in the same boat with the same symptoms. Very frustrating, but I’m determined to get well and feel even better than I did before this started. So you can imagine my surprise when someone told me I was “so lucky” to get to rest. Trust me, I’d rather be writing books for you and going on a long book tour than stay cooped up in my house dealing with MS symptoms.

But You Look Fine

If you’ve heard the term “Invisible Disability” you probably know better than to say “you look fine” to someone who’s feeling sick and under the weather. A more supportive comment might be, “You look great, but I hear that there’s a lot more to it than that and that you’re suffering right now.”

You’re Feeling Better!

Some friends want you to feel better so badly that every time they see you they say, “you’re feeling better?!” It comes out as more of a statement than a question. That’s because they’re so scared for you that they feel tremendous anxiety within themselves. This means they care, even if they don’t say the right thing. This reaction is about them and has nothing to do with you, so there’s no need to take it personally.

I Thought Those Were Spa Treatments

Recently, when asking about HBOT, someone said to me, “I thought those were spa treatments.” Anything that minimizes a person’s healing path is not a supportive comment and is most likely better left unsaid. Again, this is about the other person, not about you!

Giving Advice

Giving advice is a tricky thing. And it’s best not to give advice even if you have fantastic intentions. Remember, someone who is sick is dealing with a lot of people, not just you. Multiply your advice x100 people, plus medical professionals, and healers, and then reconsider. If you can’t refrain from giving advice, look inside to see whether your impulse is coming from a compulsion. If it’s not, you’ll easily be able to let it go.

Asking About Symptoms

This is another challenging topic. Don’t ask people who are sick about their symptoms. This might seem like common sense to most people, but again, common sense can be lost when people are nervous or uncomfortable.

What to Say to Someone Who’s Sick

More people than ever that I know are sick right now. All of these folks have friends and loved ones that don’t know what to say to them because dealing with illness is AWKWARD and makes people very uncomfortable. It’s a bit of a taboo subject like sex, politics, and money. I’m writing this to give you perspective from the inside, and help everyone communicate better!

The Perfect Thing to Say to Someone Who’s Sick

Thankfully, all of the above comments are very minimal in comparison to the incredibly supportive network I have of people who know how to say the perfect thing in this situation. My husband somehow knows exactly what to say every time. Additionally, we have friends who send over notes like this, “I’m so sorry you are feeling bad. How frustrating for you. If you ever just want me to pick up lunch and come over or take a walk let me know. I’m good at last minute plans. Hope you feel better soon.” That is the perfect thing to say to someone who’s feeling sick!

If you’re not feeling well, or have experienced illness, what helpful or unhelpful things have people said to you? Leave a comment and let me know!

You are truly a hero to me for pioneering new paths to wellness, then generously sharing your knowledge and experiences.

Comments

181 responses to “What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Sick”

  1. “But you look fine” is the most common one and the most hurtful that I’ve experienced and also what friends have shared they’ve experienced. Contrarily, I loved when people asked questions to understand what I was dealing with and I loooved advice!!! That’s how I found yoga, cleansing, energy medicine, and all the healers and resources that helped me after years of excruciating pain and fatigue now be celebrating 18 years autoimmune symptom free.

    • Angela, I get that a lot and totally understand. I’m so glad those things are working for you! I started teaching yoga in 1993 and it has been super helpful for me, same with energy medicine and cleansing :-)

      • I have a daughter with MS and she has been in chronic, all over, 24/7 nerve pain for over 3 1/2 years. She struggles to even take a light walk. She eats paleo and has tried about every kind of medicine known to help pain with no relief. She recently did the 1st of the Lemtrada infusions and it has increased her pain a great deal. Would the HBOT possibly work for her, in your opinion and what is “energy medicine”? Also, where do you do HBOT? We are in Fort Collins.

  2. This post is so well timed for me that I appreciate your openness and honesty about the ups and the downs. I’ve been following your blog for many years without actually following a gluten free/paleo diet but was just looking for higher protien clean swaps to fuel my long workout days so when I was diagnosed with MS last year I knew this was one of the places I could go and just reread through your own journey over the years. One thing that has really gotten to me is while I appreciate that some people can run marathons, continue to work 60 hours a week, or do all these other adventurous things I wonder if those same inspirational articles are misleading. They make me feel bad for feeling bad. You know? I can’t run anymore, I’m luck if I can walk my dog around the block. I had my last big relapse after international travel and never recovered and I can’t even commit to my job of 10 years 40 hours a week. I hate hearing about how everyone knows someone with MS “and they seem fine” or “she’s doing really well”. I feel like I’ve had to give up a lot and while these may seem like well intentioned statements it really just makes me feel bad and while I would never wish a relapse on someone I appreciate you talking about it and how you overcome it. I hope you are able to take the time you need and find it peaceful and healing.

    • Danielle, thanks so very much for your comment! I’ve been thinking a lot about this for the last few weeks. Back in 2006, when I was diagnosed with MS, I had determined to be very positive and share all of the inspiring parts of my process. At some point along the way, I realized that filtering out the challenging parts of this journey isn’t real, or helpful, to myself and others. And, if we aren’t real about what’s going on, we can’t support each other. Getting the right kind of support is critical when we’re dealing with MS (and other illnesses) especially because MS can be so isolating. Thanks for being so thoughtful and joining me in this dialogue about what people like us need. I hope you’ll stay in touch and keep me posted on how you’re doing. ❤️❤️❤️

    • Danielle, I came to this site to see how Elana is doing this month; in the process I saw your comments. Please do know that MS comes in all shapes and sizes and challenges. Some folks can do so very well at times, and others seem to have a different arrangement of MS symptoms/process/challenges. I’m an Occupational Therapist so have seen several of these variations. You are doing the best you can do, and you are loved*, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I know that doesn’t help much when you are finding it too tough to do what you once did with ease (or not even with “ease”). Care for yourself as best you can. I admire you for continuing to cope. …. Blessings to you and to Elana; you are both so well loved.
      *Whether or not you have significant others in your life, you are still loved, as a part of the human family. I feel a connection to you today; that connection is loving.

  3. Thanks for these beautiful post .
    In my family, MS is a tabu conversation, my mom don’t like to talk about my younger sister , and when I try to ask how she is , she talks about other things . From her voice on the phone I already know when something isn’t goo but I don’t dare to ask . Makes me sad and sometimes feel a part from them , I miss them in a way , they change so much after the diagnosis.
    Sorry for my English and long text .
    Sorry to hear that you’re not feeling well.
    In Portugal ( Coimbra ) they are studying about blueberry leaves that may help MS .

    • Lucy, thanks for your wonderful comment! As you describe, MS and illness are something that can bring us together or drive us apart.

  4. Elena,
    I wish for you health. I have ulcerative colitis and I know what a rollercoaster autoimmune diseases are. I hope you find some relief soon and thank you so much for your amazing recipes. I’ve been following your blog and using your cookbooks for at least a decade now. I remember being so excited finding out that you new about the SCD diet as well, as that diet has saved my life. I’ve been grain-free sugar-free with limited dairy for more than 10 years. Thank you so much for teaching me how to cook well and enjoy the holidays without feeling food deprived. I hope so much you feel better soon.

    Jennifer Orr

  5. Oh my gosh… I was ill for 5-7 years, in and out of bed but still barely working – and an undiagnosed Celiac. ALL of the comments that were tossed your way were said to me. Thank goodness there is a community out there that understands the burden of invisible illness and/or disability. Thanks so much for posting this, Elana. And, thank you for all the great recipes, books, and suggestions – you’ve improved my life considerably! May God speed your recovery!

    • Gail, thanks for your incredibly wonderful comment! I totally agree, it’s really amazing that there is a community out there that understands the burden of invisible illness and/or disability.

  6. Elena,
    It’s not fair that a person as good and giving like you has to suffers much. . You give so much to everyone around you and please know how much we appreciate you. You are in my thoughts and prayers and hope your recovery is quick and soon. I admire your attitude and fortitude. You deserve good health and will soon have yours back.

  7. Hi Elana,
    I’m so sorry to hear you are not feeling well and hope you are feeling a bit better day by day. Thanks for sharing your journey and also this very helpful advice. And, for all the delicious and simple recipes. As always, I leave your blog having learned so much about so many things–and with way more ideas than I can possibly cook. So grateful for all you are and share!

    Wishing you and your family a lovely holiday,
    Lynn

    • Lynn, thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement! I’m so grateful to be on this healing path with you :-)

  8. I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well. You’ve made an enormous difference in our kitchen – I’m not much of a recipe person, and wasn’t a huge baker before celiac (and casein intolerance) came along, so I wasn’t looking for GF versions of familiar confections. But the imagination and integrity you bring to your recipes has been an enormous support for me, for almost 8 years. I hope your Thanksgiving is peaceful, and joyful, and restful, and that your thoughtful, hard work on your health helps you feel stronger and more energized soon. All best, always.

  9. Dear Elana,
    Wishing you feel and get well soon.
    Thank you for sharing your journey, your advices, your recipes and your challenges along the way.
    Everything is well appreciated and valued.
    My prayers are with you.
    A big warm hug,
    Martha

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