I Kind of Need You to Stop Asking if I'm "Better"
It’s rare, in this wacky journey that is my chronic-illness-having, that I openly express frustration. That’s mainly because I don’t think it’s all that productive, and I have had productivity beaten into me for all of my honors student life. I’d much rather spend my time talking and commiserating with other cool, chronically ill people, or educating friends and family on what it’s like to have a sickness that isn’t going away. But some days, the frustrated part wins. It wins hard.
The frustrated part comes out when my steroids are giving me insomnia, and I only slept three hours a night this week. The frustrated part comes out when my hair starts falling out every time I touch it. The frustrated part comes out when I realize my meds have given me a weird hand tremor and suddenly I feel way more like someone’s great aunt than like a 24-year-old.
But socially, the frustrated part comes out when someone asks the question I’m constantly dreading: are you feeling better?
The reason I dread this question so actively is because there are no answers to it that will make the people in my life happy–– which is something I desperately want to do. I would love to tell you that yes, in fact, I have miraculously come out of this flare and it will probably never happen again and, as it turns out, I am healthy as a horse. Turns out, though, that would be as honest as telling you that I just met Beyonce and she asked me to model her new athleisure line. Which is to say it’s a big old lie, or just a dream I had once.
I’m not a total pessimist. Some days I am feeling better! And in the moment you ask, I just might be. But the problem is, I’m living in a really long flare. And when this flare ends, I’m not sure how long I’ll have until my health turns on me again. That’s the nature of chronic illness: unpredictability. I have good days and bad days. Honestly, it changes down to the minute. Last week I called my mom in the morning to tell her I was feeling better than I had in weeks and I was ready to take life on–– and by 6 PM, I was in so much abdominal pain I was crying on my bedroom floor, popping Norco like it was a pill in Ibiza. (Am I using that pop culture reference right? I haven’t been out in a while.)
So when you ask if I’m feeling better, I feel obligated to tell you yes, because it’s understood that it’s what you want to hear. If you have a chronically ill person in your life, I’m not saying you should assume they feel like shit all the time and not ask at all. But there are ways to talk about illness that come off as genuinely curious and helpful that don’t make the person in question feel bad for not feeling better. Great things to say include “Hey, just checking in to see how you’re feeling. Thinking about you,” or “Can I come over and watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt with you until we both melt into the couch cushions?” Showing you care and are trying to get it will go a million and one miles to getting someone to open up to you about how they really feel–– which might not be better, but will be important to hear.