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5 Responses for “Have You Tried…”

Or, ways to say thanks but shut up (nicely)

If you are living with chronic illness, chances are you’ve had this conversation at least once:

“Oh, you have (fill in disease or condition name here.)? I have an (enter relationship) who has (or read about) that. Have you tried (fill in the solution that you’ve heard 100 times)?”

They mean well — the people who want to fix us. They don’t realize that this may be our life for the long haul. But sometimes it’s more than we can handle.

Here are five suggestions on how you can respond to the conversation.

But first…

I equate a new diagnosis with the stages of grief.

You have to process each one to move toward living with your condition rather than suffering from it.

The traditional stages are:

  1. Denial,
  2. Anger,
  3. Bargaining,
  4. Depression, and
  5. Acceptance.

With chronic illness, it usually looks like this:

  1. I’m not sick. It’s temporary.
  2. Screw anyone who isn’t sick.
  3. If I rest then I won’t be sick. That will work. Right?
  4. I’m never going to be anything but sick.
  5. So, I’m sick. It’s okay. I’m still awesome.

It’s important to understand where you are in your journey so that you can make sure your response is appropriate.

During stages one and two, my typical response to “helpful” people was to either change the subject or tell them they didn’t know anything about me. This wasn’t effective (or kind.)

Stage three brought unchecked optimism with each idea presented by well-meaning friends and family.

Stage four was quiet. Inside I was thinking, “Yeah, like anything will help me now.”

And, then came stage five. Most days I’m a solid five, but some days I do regress. That’s part of living this kind of medical dance. When I slide, I try to remember that how I respond to people determines how they will react to me when I’m back in a healthier stage. Plus, the world needs more kindness (even if you don’t want to be.)

The next time someone offers the ultimate solution for your chronic illness or chronic pain, try these responses:

1. The Go-To.

This short and sweet version to end the conversation is easy.

“I’ll have to look into that.”

It has a little bit of a fake commitment if you don’t intend to follow through, but sometimes it’s the easiest way to say thank you without drawing out the conversation.

It’s almost as good as….

2. The Brush Off.

“I’ll have to remember that.”

This simple response implies no agreement, validation, or commitment for you to try what they have suggested. Yet, it makes the people who care about us feel like they are helping us heal.

It’s easier than…

3. The Honest Reply.

There are some situations where people are interested in the reality of your illness. They may want to discuss it so they can better educate themselves.

If that is the case, be honest.

Share with them your concerns about why it won’t be the perfect solution for you — or tell them the story of how you’ve already tried it. Try to educate rather than embarrass. They mean well (most of the time.)

Unless they don’t, then you have….

4. The Shut Down.

Occasionally there are conversations with people who believe that your condition isn’t real so they give you a solution to make you understand that.

You need more sleep. Your diet is terrible. It’s all in your mind.

These are the perfect situations to employ the reality check explaining that your medical team is more than capable of diagnosing and treating your condition no matter what they’ve read on Google.

Thanks, but I can handle this on my own.

Every blue moon you end up in a situation where you can employ the shooting star of responses…

5. The Thank You.

If you are lucky, you may end up in a conversation with someone who is actually knowledgeable about what it’s like to live with chronic illness. Those living with invisible illnesses are everywhere. You may be living next door to or working with someone who is experiencing it on a personal level.

I’ve had countless conversations with people that started with, “Wait… you, too?” These are the people that you need to stop and hear.

Open your heart to what they suggest. They may have experience that can help you. It might be the conversation that offers a nugget of knowledge that will lead you to discover something that actually works.

And when you have these conversations, just remember to say thank you.

How do you respond to people when they offer unsolicited advice about your chronic or mental health condition? Let’s come together as a community in the comments below. We are stronger together.

I want to hear from you! If you’d like me to write about a specific aspect of mental health or chronic illness, please let me know in the responses below.

Stephanie Pitcher Fishman is a writer, blogger, and mom living with chronic illness, a mid-life baby, and a coffee addiction. She writes about fake people (fiction), dead people (family history and genealogy), and sick people (herself included.) Read more at, and don’t forget to say hi on Twitter.

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