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Guest Blog: 'I Care about You' and Other Things to Say to Sick Friends



In honour of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, I think I'll snort some nitro spray. Oh, wait. Sorry. I mean, I think I'll talk about what to say when somebody you care about is ill ' rather than the well-meaning (but often annoying) greeting: 'You look great!'' 

When I'm having a really bad day, I've often thought that a lovely'  neck brace or leg cast might come in handy. It would be like sporting a well-recognized outside sign that something is not quite right inside, because my cardiac symptoms are mostly invisible to others.

So instead of gushing 'You look great!' ' which may actually feel to the patient as if you're somehow diminishing the seriousness of the diagnosis ' you might consider just saying something like this example, courtesy of an Invisible Illness Week essay that I found recently:

'I don't know what to say. I wish I could fix it all and take away your pain. I don't know what you would like me to say, and I am so afraid of saying the wrong thing. But know this: I care about you.'

The essay went on to say that, although there is no shortage of friends or family who send patients newspaper clippings about the latest cure for their disease or fresh advice of 'you should try. . . .', the simple and precious words 'I care about you. I am here for you' are less common than most people would believe.

If you're a patient with an invisible illness like heart disease, how should you respond to that ubiquitous 'But you look great!' greeting? When over 1,200 people took a survey back in 2008 on the Invisible Illness website, real live patients contributed many suggested replies we can try out on those who insist on that greeting.'  Here is just a small sample of possible responses offered:

  • I am hangin' in there . . .

  • Drugs are a wonderful thing.

  • I have my good days and I have my bad days.

  • I clean up well.

  • I have my 'good' days ' but this isn't one of them

  • That's a perfect example of how you can never judge a book by its cover.

  • Well, I guess I did good job on my makeup!

  • 'Powder and paint make you what you ain't!'

  • It took a lot of work to look this fabulous!

  • If I can't feel good, at least I am determined to look good!

  • I'm having a 'good face' day.

  • Yeah, my kid thinks it's cool that I'm an ill person working undercover as a healthy person

If you're the friend or family member of a patient with an invisible illness, try offering something a tad more helpful than saying 'You look great!' to that person.'  Here's what I wrote here previously:

'Next time you approach a heart patient, a bereaved person grieving a loss, or those diagnosed with any chronic, progressive disease ' what could you do or say instead of gushing over their appearance? One of the most helpful comments to me so far has been some variation of ' the simple statement:


'It's good to see you!'


'?¦ which is probably fairly accurate, ' feels pretty fine to hear, and' doesn't elicit the 'If you only knew'?¦' reply that we're silently muttering.'


Find out more about how you can participate in supporting Invisible Chronic Illness Week.


Q: Are you or somebody you know living with an invisible illness?


More Blog Posts by Carolyn Thomas

author bio

Carolyn Thomas is a heart attack survivor and a 2008 graduate of the annual WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She was also named by “Our Bodies Ourselves” of Boston in 2009 as one of 20 inductees from seven countries acknowledged as “Women’s Health Heroes” for community activism in promoting women’s health. This post originally appeared on her Heart Sisters blog. She also writes at The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics for the Easily Swayed and you can follow her on Twitter @HeartSisters or @TheEthicalNag.

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Carolyn Thomas says
September 14, 2012 at 12:32 PM

Thanks so much Jessie and PPF friends for reposting this article. Just in time for Invisible Illness Awareness Week! Keep up the great work you do here.