One of the classic elements of the holiday season is conversation with family members you haven’t seen or talked to in a while about what your life is like right now. This can be uncomfortable to anyone but it is especially so for people with chronic medical conditions. Sometimes there are problems with answering “normal” questions, and sometimes there are problems with health questions. Our problems with these questions are a bit different than those of healthy people; sometimes we quite literally do not have the energy to answer them, and sometimes we just don’t know how to answer them. Regardless of what problems you have, I hope that this helps you.
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“What are you up to?” – If nothing much has changed since the last time you saw them, you’re not doing much other than going to medical appointments, or your health is doing worse, you can quickly pass over yourself and then redirect the conversation back to the person who asked. Tell them, “Oh, I’m up to the same. How are you? How is work? Are you still doing [insert their favorite hobby here]?” If something is coming up, you can always talk about that.
“Have you tried [etc.]?” – When you have a chronic illness or condition, often people who don’t know much about it will turn to good ole’ Google. This can be great in some cases, but it can also mean that you have many conversations that focus around information from basic internet research. Often, this leads people to act as though they know your medical condition better than you do. I’ve been able to shut people down by saying someone along the lines of, “If it’s a treatment for RA, I’ve either tried it and it didn’t work for me or my rheumatologist doesn’t believe it will work for me.” Then, I move on. If you haven’t tried many treatments, you can always say, “That’s interesting! I’ll have to look into it.”
“What are you looking to do after your degree?” – This is a question I’m dealing with a lot right now, especially since humanities degrees don’t have any obvious career after completing them. Unfortunately, this is also the most emotionally difficult for me to answer. I studied secondary education in undergrad and I loved teaching, but I had to quit my job after my first year because my health was bad. I’m terrified of setting my heart on another career and then my health getting in the way again. One way to answer this question without getting upset (hopefully) is to say, “I have several ideas but I’m not positive what I’m going to do yet.” If you have no idea what you’re going to do, you could say, “I’m not positive yet, but my school/advisor has some ideas.”
“Are you doing better?” or “I hope you get better soon!” – This is probably the hardest question to answer unless you are doing better. The people who ask this care about you, and they don’t want you to feel worse. If they ask how you’re doing, you can say, “I’m hanging in there!” or a simple, “Thank you – that means a lot.”