Friday, August 13, 2010

What NOT to say

Since this is my "off day" (meaning no dialysis today) and there's really not much to report as far as progress in the whole transplant process or being able to start home dialysis... I've decided to share the reason I have such a hard time loving people sometimes.

It's because people say stupid things. Especially after they find out you have a chronic illness like kidney disease.

We all do it, though, myself included. Before I needed to use a wheelchair for a time (still do on occasion), I used to get very uncomfortable when someone was in the room sitting in a wheelchair. It was awkward around them, I didn't know what to say, but I wanted to ask what happened, but I didn't want to offend them by staring, so I tried some side glances, and tried to figure out what was wrong myself.... and on and on. I know what it's like to feel awkward around someone who is "sick" and I also know what it means when someone shows you value and respect as a person, even though you're in a wheelchair.

When I needed to use a wheelchair, it was like I had become a different person all of a sudden. People were staring and gawking at me but avoiding me as if I had something contagious. Those that dared to ask, usually asked this way, and it's the number one thing NOT to say.

"What's wrong with you?"

Makes me want to ask "What's wrong with you, dummy!?" Whoa, now, you might be thinking, that's a little extreme. Well... what do you expect from me, I just got asked what was wrong with me. How is that supposed to make me feel? I'll tell you how it makes me feel. It makes me feel like something is wrong with me, that maybe God made a mistake in how He made me because I'm "not like everybody else", that I don't fit in and maybe I just shouldn't leave my house if I'm not going to be accepted by anyone anywhere.

True, that's not what was MEANT by the question but nevertheless, that's how it made me feel. And that's from people who care about me.

So, how do we avoid this number one slip-up? First off, by striking that phrase from your vocabulary altogether. Nothing good starts by saying "What's wrong ------- " in referring to other people. Second, there's an alternative to asking that is much more polite and respectful.

"What happened to you?"

I didn't choose to have a kidney disease, I don't like it and I don't want it but that's what I got. It *happened* to me and if people ask what happened to me, then I'm much more willing to talk to them about my illness than if they stupidly ask what's wrong with me.

The world is basically divided into two types of people: The ill people and the healthy people. Being ill with a chronic disease is like being handed a lifetime membership to an exclusive club that you never wanted to join in the first place. I don't know what it's like to be healthy but I do remember that, when I felt better, I stayed as far away from "the club" and it's "members" as I could. Now, this is my life and I plan to stay as close to this "club" as I can even when I get better. Most people don't know how to relate to the ill but I do.

There will be many more posts like this because there are many stupid things people say and I give you a first hand look at how to relate to someone with a chronic illness. I'm not talking about y'all relating to me, but being able to relate to anyone you come across who is ill or handicapped in some form or fashion. Because you will come across someone else with a chronic illness, I can guarantee it, and if my writing this helps make life a little bit easier for someone else than it will have been worth it.


  1. Good tip, Kristin. I've never had someone ask what's wrong with me (at least not in reference to illness) but since losing 10 pounds recently I no longer just look small I look severely anorexic. I find it annoying when people make comments about my weight or smallness and I can tell that they're concerned but they won't just come out and ask about it because that's 'rude'.
    It's made me think that I'd rather err on the side of asking 'rude' questions and maybe show them that someone actually cares to listen instead of erring by being 'polite' and ignoring a huge part of their life.
    Thanks for posting. =)

  2. You can err on the side of asking "rude" questions when you make it obvious that you really do care and are just trying to know how best to pray for them.

    Lately, it seems like my illness is the only part of my life that people will talk to me about and I think I would rather people ignore it. But that's just me...

    Sometimes people just want to know and they are rude and insensitive in their questions.

    It's the people who do actually care but they don't know how to show it that this post was written for. I know they care and I know they just want to know how to pray for me but they just don't know how best to go about asking because the situation is awkward. Maybe I just didn't do the best job in expressing that, though.

    And I hate when people comment about my weight. Some of the credit for this blog even being started can go to the person who made a comment about my weight right after I got out of the hospital and I almost commented on that person's larger-than-normal size. I'm not doing anybody any favors by letting them think that saying things like that is ok. The trick is to let them know and understand my feelings without disregarding theirs and, unfortunately, that's gonna take a little more work on my part because I don't quite have it down yet.

  3. Well stated, and your post is something that made me think and give thanks for many things that I otherwise take for granted.

    I feel that many people today are observant--but they are looking for what is not "normal" around them. I feel that sometimes people should err on the side of silence, rather than having an insatiable curiosity of "I just got to know what is their story". Some things are better left unasked.

    I can elaborate on this subject more--from my own personal experiences, but its almost 11pm here, and I am dozing off by the second!! Before I sleep, I will pray and give thanks to God, and I will also ask Him to protect and heal all the wonderful people who touch our life. Everyone we meet has something to teach us.