Words matter, especially to loved ones living with a chronic illness

It's important to remember before speaking that words can help or hurt

Shawna Barnes avatar

by Shawna Barnes |

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“Maybe if you just exercised, you’d feel better.”

“You look tired today.”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

Mental health, particularly how we feel about ourselves, is a touchy subject, especially when you’re battling a chronic and debilitating illness like myasthenia gravis (MG). Friends and loved ones may not know what to say to help us feel better. Hell, I don’t even know what to say half the time to help people understand how I’m feeling — even when it lets them be more helpful.

One thing I do know is that statements like the above aren’t helpful. Words, no matter how well intentioned, matter. They have the ability to help or hurt.

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Comparison is the thief of joy when you have myasthenia gravis

Words and mental health

The other night, my husband and I were talking in the kitchen while putting food away. Out of the blue, he told me I looked pretty. It stopped me in my tracks and brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my face. I thanked him.

But then I said it’d been awhile since he’d told me I looked pretty. He often tells me that I look “nice,” but “pretty” just hit differently. And it got me wondering why such a simple statement had prompted such a disproportionate reaction.

The conclusion I came to was that word choice matters. During the past couple years, I’ve been dealing with poor mental health because of increased weight gain, pain, and an inability to get a breast reduction because of my weight. I’ve been beating myself up about my choices and decisions. My mental health has been worse than I’d realized.

I hated the way I looked in the mirror because I couldn’t see the person I am. I cursed the disease that took away the person I once was. So when well-meaning people would ask if I’d tried exercising, it just further cut down how I felt about myself.

I’ve lost 30 pounds in the past four months. I feel really good about my progress, but know I could be doing better. With monthly counseling, a prednisone taper, and the ability to be more active because of a treatment plan that works for me, I’m getting myself in a better place, mentally and physically.

So when my husband told me I looked pretty, it helped me see — and feel — the person that he sees.

He could’ve told me that I looked nice again.

He could’ve looked at me with bedroom eyes and given me the wink to know that he still finds me attractive, even if I don’t feel it.

He could’ve told me a dozen other things. But he told me I looked pretty.

And for the first time in a long time, I felt it.

Note: Myasthenia Gravis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Myasthenia Gravis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to myasthenia gravis.


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