I’ve dealt with a lot of crap over the past 15 years of health issues. I got to the point where it annoys me when people don’t believe me but then I move on. But there are still a few things that really tick me off: doctors who talk down to patients, people who assume that because I still do things sometimes I’m not actually “sick,” and when someone says, “Well, it could be worse.” Oh goodness how I hate that phrase. So let’s talk about why you shouldn’t say that to someone who has a chronic illness and what to say instead.
Why people say, “It could be worse.” – Generally, they’re trying to be comforting. They don’t know how to deal with the situation, and they don’t know what to say to someone who has a chronic illness. It’s often said when a chronically ill person – who I’ll refer to as a spoonie here, and you can click that link to learn more about what that means – tells a healthy person about their illness/condition for the first time, mentions an increase in their symptoms, or discusses a large, negative event from their condition. In these moments, a healthy person who may not have ever had health problems like that before, is often at a loss of what to say. They don’t know how to relate to or improve the mood of who they’re talking to, so they say what they know: “Well at least it isn’t worse! It could always be worse!”
What it generally means (even if that’s not what is intended) – Unfortunately, the message that comes across is, “What you’re feeling right now is not that bad.” I understand that this is intended to be comforting. However, it puts down what the spoonie is feeling. It says, “Why are you complaining about this when it could be worse? Why aren’t you glad that it isn’t worse?” Obviously, this isn’t what is usually intended by the people who say it, but it doesn’t change that this is what many spoonies hear.
Last year, I asked spoonies to send me quotes of the ridiculous things people have said to them over the years. Several people (at least 5) told me variations of, “It could be worse.” Saying this to people is hurtful because what you’re saying is, “You don’t have anything to complain about. Why aren’t you grateful that it isn’t worse?”
What to say instead – There are so many things you can stay instead. If you’re looking for a way to comfort someone, try asking, “Is there anything I can do?” or “How can I help?” If you don’t know what to say, you can tell them, “I don’t know how to respond to that.” That’s perfectly okay! Most people have no idea how to respond when I tell them about my health issues. You can also always say, “That sounds tough.” You are not obligated to comfort the person you are talking to. And if you’re talking to a friend who is upset about their health and you want to comfort them, you can ask them how to help or just give them a hug.
Saying, “It could be worse,” is not the required phrase for comforting someone with chronic illness. In fact, it you could stop saying it to spoonies overall, that would be great. We’re well aware that it could be worse, but that doesn’t change how tough our situation is.Click To Tweet