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Gratitude isn’t a Platitude: Stop Saying Be Grateful It Isn’t Worse

Lately it seems that gratefulness is on every podcast and television show, but for Spoonies, gratitude isn’t a platitude. Too often we hear, “Well, be glad it isn’t worse.” What? So we should just be glad for the pain that wakes us up in the middle of the night? Sure, THANKS, Painsomnia! Or the extreme fatigue that keeps us from doing my job so we’re on the verge of getting fired. Gee, THANKS, ME/CFS. We think most Spoonies would agree that we would love if chronic illness allies would stop saying be grateful it isn’t worse, and here’s why…

This idea that gratitude can just be thrown out there like it’s just that simple isn’t for all of us, and it takes real effort. People who don’t suffer from a chronic illness have no idea how much we go through sometimes to just survive. It’s not that we’re not grateful, or even that we don’t know it could be worse, but that the type of statement that we should be glad it isn’t worse minimizes what we’re going through at that time. It’s like telling someone with depression to just get happy. Our illnesses don’t work that way. We already have enough struggles. Don’t make us struggle with guilt.

For the most part, we think people that get us to try and focus on the gratitude aren’t trying to hurt us. We think people just want to find something positive in the chaos of their mind, because chronic illness can be a tough pill to swallow (yes, pun totally intended). It’s natural for them to want to find that one nice thing to say. So, when we ask you to stop saying “Be grateful it isn’t worse,” it’s not that we’re trying to make you feel bad, either. For the most part, we’re not equating our chronic illness allies with those that are dismissing our symptoms wholly or never going to try to understand or will tell us we’re faking no matter what. We’re just asking that we go to a place that is more constructive.

So I’m going to say it one million times until it sinks in…gratitude isn’t a platitude to just be thrown out there when you don’t know what else to say, and we have to work with everyone so they start to get it. Now, not to just complain and scream to people, “Stop saying, ‘Be grateful it isn’t worse!,’ because that’s not constructive either, what can chronic illness allies do instead?

Stop Saying “Be Grateful It isn’t Worse.” Say These Things Instead:

We can’t just tell our spoonie allies to stop saying, “Be grateful it isn’t worse,” without giving them other options. That would just make us those whiners who get nothing done. Well, that’s not us. So, we want to give some good things our allies can say to us that make us feel good. Things that work almost across the board for all spoonies. And feel free to add some of your own in the comments. Or head over to our Facebook page to join our private Facebook group to keep the discussion going.

Chronic illness allies can try saying some of these things…

  • How are you coping?
    This is a simple question that often covers a lot of what we’re feeling. Not how are we feeling? Too often we’ll try to shield you from things. Not do we need anything. Not any of those surface questions. This tells us you get that this is something we really DEAL with in a holistic way and will likely listen.
  • I read about your condition. Tell me more about how it’s impacting you.
    Wow. We love to hear when our friends and family start googling our conditions. Well, until they start going all worst-case-scenario on us (talking to you, MOM!), but still…it shows us that they care enough to be involved and engaged in what’s going on with us.
  • We’d love to have you with us today, but only if you feel up to it.
    One of the big things Spoonies deal with is isolation from friends and family due to our illnesses. We are immunocompromised, in pain, have fatigue, etc. that doesn’t allow us to participate in regular activities all the time. Plus, these things fluctuate on a day to day, hour to hour basis. So, when one of our friends remembers to invite us, even though we might not be able to do it, that feels really good.
  • It’s not your fault. Totally know it’s your illness. Call or text me later when or if you’re up for it.
    There are times we just can’t do anything due to our chronic illnesses. It might be anything from feeding the kids to shopping with your friend for her anniversary outfit. It doesn’t matter. We drop the ball sometimes out of nowhere. So, when someone shows us that they understand, it’s amazing.
  • Let’s do something today. What do YOU feel up to?
    Hello, best friend in the world. Why, I feel like sitting in a dark room watching Lord of the Rings for the 1,000th time. You? Okay, maybe that’s not all of your answers, but the fact that the person is willing to do what you’re able to do in that moment is really cool. They get you can’t go out and play 18 holes of golf in the bright sun. However, you could sit through 18 hours of LOTR in a dark room. (No, not giving up on the dream of finding a friend willing to do that with us…)
  • Hey, I’m planning the menu/restaurant for this thing. Remind me again what your food restrictions are? I want to make sure you can enjoy eating!
    So many chronic illnesses wreak havoc on the digestive system, but that’s not what this question is about. It’s not necessarily food related, but symptom related. It could even be “Hey, I’m planning something that requires a ton of standing, how do I accommodate you, because I know you get dizzy?” It’s the person who wants you present and involved, but asks you what they can do to make sure you don’t have to sacrifice your health to be there and have fun.
  • Haven’t seen you for a while. Checking in on you. How are you?
    Sometimes we just disappear from humanity for a while when we’re dealing with our chronic illnesses. We get lost in doctor appointments, fatigue, hospitalizations, surgeries, etc. It can feel like the world moves on and forgets about us. It’s a wonderful feeling when someone reaches out to you and reminds you that you are loved and missed.

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