Favorite Phrase: “I could never be as brave as you. You’re such an inspiration!”
There’s a line between expressing recognition of someone’s perseverance in the face of adversity and gushing about their bravery in getting dressed and leaving the house like everyone else. Disease fetishists flirt with this line in every interaction with you.
Are you able to work despite being sick? You’re not just trying to pay the bills; you’re a shining example of dedication and perseverance.
Remark that it’s a nice day outside? Your ability to find joy in the little things despite the crippling pain of your everyday existence is a lesson to healthy people everywhere to put their problems in perspective.
Choose the sugar free latte over the one that gives you a migraine? You’re not just being sensible- you’re a goddamn pillar of self-control.
I don’t always want to be an example, and I don’t need a little voice following me around heaping praise on me for being brave enough to do my laundry.
For me, laundry tends to be less of an act of bravery and more of an act of desperation.
How should you treat the sick girl in your life? Just like anyone who has problems in their life. In other words: just like everyone else.
Favorite Phrase: “Oh, you poor thing!”
The typical sympathy addict can be found with a box of tissues in the front row of a theatre immersed in a tear-jerker about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love. You can’t check her facebook page without seeing pictures of her visiting a nursing home displayed prominently. When she hears through the grapevine that you’re sick, she’ll overwhelm you with cards, emails, and requests to visit, even though you’re barely more than acquaintances and haven’t seen her in over a year.
What seems like kindness at first glance reveals itself to be something else entirely upon closer inspection. The sympathy addict gives not for the sake of giving, but to satisfy some bizarre emotional craving. Some sympathy addicts want to (often publically) pat themselves on the back for their boundless charitability in thinking of the poor sick girl. Others crave a hit of tragedy that they don’t get enough of from a Nicholas Sparks novel. The worst kind of sympathy addict will never admit that deep down, they feel a sense of superiority when they see someone in worse circumstances than themselves.
Brene Brown describes sympathy as an emotion that drives disconnection. Sympathy is like that bulky, itchy, ugly sweater that your great aunt knit you for Christmas one year. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and ultimately more for the benefit of the giver than the gifted.
Sick people don’t want your sympathy. We aren’t “poor,” we aren’t “little” (especially not after all those steroids), and we aren’t “things.” We want someone to listen, not use us to feed an emotional need or simper at us like we’re some baby bird that fell out of its nest.
We could have been promoted at work, met the love of our life, or just enjoyed a really great cup of coffee. But we’ll never be more than that sad little sick girl in the eyes of the sympathy addict.
Favorite Phrase: “…”
The mute cousin of Negative Nancy, Awkward Arnolds are the most common type of person you meet when you’re sick. They’re the co-worker who won’t look at you in the meeting or the neighbor who scurries into her house with her groceries when she used to talk your ear off.
I didn’t fully understand why acquaintances and classmates suddenly grew so aloof after my diagnosis until a full five years into my illness, although I should have. Once after a high school classmate’s brother died in a motorcycle accident, I couldn’t meet his eye for a full week. Seeing something bad happen to someone you know can cause deep discomfort. Rather than wade through the discomfort, some people are paralyzed by it.
See a bit of Awkward Arnold in yourself? Try just saying hello, no matter how uncomfortable it feels. Remember that tragedy isn’t contagious. The words will come easier each time you speak them.
Favorite phrase: “I know someone with your condition who took homeopathic drugs/smoked pot/did yoga/danced naked under a full moon, and they’re completely cured.”
For every problem you have, a Mr. Fix-It has at least five solutions. He’s usually so overcome with eagerness to share his wisdom he’ll interrupt you before you’ve even finished explaining the problem.
Despite the label, Mr. Fix-Its are not limited to just the male gender. You’ll find just as many of these helpful little fairies while applying lipstick in the ladies room or at your women’s group at church as you will out in the general public.
The True Friend
Favorite phrase: “How was your day?”
Disease is to your social life what a gardener is to a flower bed; it removes the weeds and leaves the flowers to grow and flourish.
You’ll know her when you see her. She’ll be the one sitting next to you in the ER, behind the wheel on the way to the doctor’s appointment, or the voice over the phone on one of the worst days. She can make you laugh and listen to you cry. When illness pushes others away, it pulls her closer.
When you’re chronically ill, you don’t know what the next year, month, day, or even hour might bring. But you know that your friend will be there for all of them.