Words Make a Difference

Uninformed or ill-advised comments from strangers or casual acquaintances about our health usually roll off my back. I don’t put a lot of credence into what is said in that casual context, but when something is said by people close to me that stops and makes me pause, that’s a different story.

Three recent examples

Example 1: My husband and I were walking across a parking lot to our car in inclement weather, and it was cold, windy and snowing. I commented he should go ahead because I was walking as fast as I could but still could not keep up. His reply to me was “I’ve seen you walk faster.” He was right, he has seen me walk faster, but at that moment I was doing the best I could. After I shared my displeasure at his comment and why his words had been poorly chosen, he said he was only trying to voice encouragement.

Example 2: I was at the doctor’s office and talking about my exercise efforts on my stationary bike to help with my tight hamstrings. I told the neurologist I was riding my bike 2-3 times a week. The response from the doctor was “You know what we call that? Weekend warriors.” I immediately replied at least I was doing something since I had not been exercising at all, and there might be room for encouragement to do more, but for now I needed acknowledgement I was taking the right steps. These words also had what I’m sure was an unintended effect- I stopped riding because the message I heard was being a weekend warrior wasn’t enough to make a difference.

Example 3: A person who I collaborate with closely in MS advocacy took an unfortunate fall and had a dislocated shoulder. When I asked if the orthopedic doctor had given anything to support the weight of the arm, I was told ‘they wanted to give me a sling to wear, but I didn’t want to look like I was old and feeble.” Stop, I said, and think about who you are talking to – I use a cane because it helps with my health and can’t afford to worry about how it looks to others. You work day in and out for people who have this problem of how people see them.

My reaction

Maybe I’m tired and less tolerant these days. Or perhaps I hope that people around me have been learning along with me and know better, and they are the ones who are tired and worn down and carelessly chose the wrong words to express themselves.

I’m sure I’m not alone in having people say things that they think are just casual comments, but stop you and make you wonder “why would they say that? They should know better.” Unlike strangers who I usually let slide with comments that strike me the wrong way, I did speak up in each of these situations because these are people who I interact with regularly. I was taken aback by each because I thought they were better educated in the ways of people living with chronic disease like MS.

How do you react to comments that are well intended but often not delivered in with the best messaging? I’m sure you can offer your own examples. For me, I hope I can use these chances to continue educating others, even the ‘experts.’

Wishing you well,

Laura

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