get well soon

An exchange with a friend and fellow blogger just now brought to light a sort of personal pet peeve.  “Get well!” and “feel better!” when said to people with chronic illnesses.  It just doesn’t work.  The sentiment is too easily heard as a command for the person to stop being sick with their chronic condition, a state of affairs they most certainly want but which frustratingly, and sometimes deeply depressingly, eludes them.  And to hear it said so glibly and casually, it can suck.  I know because I’ve been on both sides of it.

Of the two, I slightly prefer “feel better”.  My husband and I have occasionally amended it to “feel better, at least better than this…” but that only works between us because we have a good understanding about what my chronic health problems mean.  I.e. feeling “better” means only a lessening of whatever immediate thing is causing MORE distraction, disability, and devastation.  I.e. “good days” are days when the couch or bed is not your only sphere, they do not mean carefree, painfree days when one can engage in the same lovely ignorance of one’s body as the “normal” people routinely can.

Having a chronic illness means you sometimes “get better” but it’s often unpredictable and always fleeting.  And you don’t ever “get well”.   Wishes for you to do these things can come across as commands for you to push yourself beyond your very real physical limits, can come across as invalidating statements not of kind thought but callousness or outright meanness.  I wish it were otherwise, I suspect that often when people say it they truly mean just to say something nice.  Although when it comes to expressing their thoughts about illness, acute or otherwise, people without chronic health problems often betray their ugly thoughts about it.  “Oh I wish I had what you had,” a supervisor and mentor told me once, about my GI problems, “I could stand to lose some weight”.  Really?  You want this?  You want to not be able to eat anything without needing to run to the bathroom?  You want crippling cramps and gas and weight loss so severe and fast that your hair falls out and your nails and teeth get soft and you catch every infectious anything that comes within a mile of you?  You want to buy new clothes every month because the ones you JUST BOUGHT and only wore a handful of times don’t fit anymore?

I think it is my orientation, which existed before I got sick and didn’t ever “get well”, toward taking things literally. I am better than I used to be, but I still hear the literal in the sentiment…like an echo or a second voice speaking over the one that is attached to moving mouth articulating these blithe words.  “Get well!”  “Feel better!”  sound to me like demands that I throw away my crutches and walk, be healed!  Amen.  And when I don’t, when I fail to, I feel like I am letting these people down.  Like I will be judged.


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  1. Well said. I really relate to the invalidating or not getting it part. I do think most people (99.9%) don’t have a clue and that is the basis for why they say those things, but when you have a history of people like family, former friends, etc. who would say comments like that in a rather snide manner, it sounds even worse and brings up all sorts of emotions. Well, that’s me anyway.

    I really wish people could just say, “I’m really sorry this is going on, too” or something, but not in a condescending way. They don’t need to say a lot–just something to validate that when this issue hopefully passes (like my current one), we just go back to our normal, which is anything but normal, and would send them straight to the ER, not that anyone is going to help them there. I’m just not sure if you can teach people empathy or how to look beyond the obvious. Sigh…

    • Yeah, I don’t know how to educate people and honestly, I get sick of trying. You are right about “routine” symptoms for us that would send otherwise healthy people to the ER. I woke up with chest pain and a rapid heart rate. Got up and read a book til it went away. Why go through the ER bullshit?

      • Right. That’s sort of why the accident was just a little accident in the grand scheme of things. I have a nightmare week of useless appts. (minus MM’s), but will try to figure out some sort of post about it soon. 🙂

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