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4 Everyday Scenarios We’re Not Sure How to be Polite About and Why

4 Everyday Scenarios We’re Not Sure How to be Polite About and Why | A Chronic Voice

*Note: I wrote this post two years ago and to be honest, I don’t really face any of these issues anymore, but only because I’ve been speaking up for myself with more ease as time goes by. People around me are also more aware since well…I bombard their feeds with such topics every day 😉 In any case, I think it is still a useful post, especially for young adults or the newly diagnosed. These scenarios are very real, and communication with others around you can be tricky and awkward.

There are many things that healthy people do because, well, it’s pretty normal to do so. Yet such actions might be detrimental to a person with a compromised or weak immune system. This includes people with chronic or terminal illnesses, the young, pregnant and old.

Not all the following scenarios are wrong per se, and I am not trying to create hostility or ask for preferential treatment. But we do come into contact with all sorts of people every day, who influence us just as we impact them. Often, we are not even aware when this happens. With so many problems existing in our world already, it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more understanding.

1. Sick Colleagues or Germ Carriers in Public Places

Scenario: Colleagues who come into work coughing and sneezing, or carrying some other spreadable virus. Perhaps they don’t have much choice because there’s lots of work to get done, or an important meeting to attend.

Unfiltered First Thought: “Oh shit. Why are people so inconsiderate? He should be wearing a mask! That’s how viruses spread, what with all the windows closed and human germ transport systems everywhere. Would it be rude if I gave him a mask? Or maybe I should wear one to protect myself? But wait…why do I have to do that when I’m not the one at fault?!”

What I Proceed to Do: Hold my breath every time I hear him cough or whenever he talks to me, as some sort of imagined psychological defense. Hope that the germs disperse as soon as possible.

Why the Drama?: Well, I’ve contracted tuberculosis once, although everyone around me was disease free. The doctor said that I probably caught it from a passerby. It was a miserable experience that lasted for a year; I was in the hospital every other day for reactions to the medications. Even if it’s just the common cold, people like me take twice as much time to recover. Moreover, the flu is also extra dangerous for pregnant women.

What You Can Do: Be a good citizen and wear a mask for the sake of everyone else around you. Even a healthy person can catch it. A virus does go viral after all. Or better yet, rest or work from home; allow your body to heal!

What I Can Try Doing in Future: Just go up, give a polite tap on his shoulder, and practise my diplomatic skills. I am sure many others around us would be grateful, if he prioritised his health first too. Doing so actually maximises efficiency, if work is your aim.

2. Sharing Food With People Who are Sick

Scenario: Girlfriends meet up and order a ton of deliciousness to share. One of them is down with a cold, or something similar. Forks stab into cakes and spoons stir the dishes, mixing everyone’s saliva up.

Unfiltered First Thought: “Smile. Take part in the conversation. It shouuuuld be fine! Try to scoop from the other corner. Remember where their spoons have been. Avoid the area. Act normal, don’t be a drama queen!”

Why the Drama?: With all the immunosuppressive drugs we are on, our immune system is in sleep mode. We lack the extra layers of defense that you have, so even mild viruses have easy access into our bodies.

What You Can Do: Initiate dividing the food up into portions. I don’t even mind having less for ease of mind.

What I Can Try Doing in Future: Just speak up, plain and simple! These are friends I am with, so they should understand.

3. Giving Unsolicited Advice

Scenario: An acquaintance asks how your health has been of late (after all these years, you can’t hide your status as ‘the sick girl’). So you tell them the truth – you’ve not been well. They proceed to give you advice on the best time of day to exercise, suggestions for a complete diet makeover, or some other perfect solution.

Unfiltered First Thought: “Sigh. Here we go again. Does she think I’m lazy? Or maybe stupid? Hmm that’s hard to decide on. Does she think that I’ve just been swallowing all these pills with awful side effects, like a good little doctor’s girl? Without doing any research, or trying to find other solutions? Does she even know what’s at stake if I stop these medications?”

Why the Drama?: No drama here. I usually just smile and nod a la Miss Universe style, chalking it up as their way of showing concern. Even though I might disappear from their mind the moment we disconnect, it is still a good thought after all. Well unless they keep insisting on you doing things their way, then I put them on the block list of my life. I don’t need the extra stress.

What You Can Do: Trust that your loved one or friend has already tried what they could to the best of their ability. Don’t give any advice, especially if you don’t live with them. Do you really know what they go through or do every day? What you see is only a small, controlled fraction of their life. Exercise more? Perhaps they can actually outrun you despite their pains. Go vegan? Do you even know the science behind vitamin K and blood clotting disorders? Of course, if we ask for your opinion, then feel free to give it. We’re all ears.

What I Can Try Doing in Future: Not much, it’s a human thing. As long as we exist, this is something that will pop up not just in medicine, but in all spheres of knowledge. I’ll just continue doing what I do – listen to see if there’s anything I can learn from them, otherwise, zone out.

4. Insensitive Comments About How We Don’t Look Sick

Scenario: Childish ‘jokes’ at a gathering about your prude, wet blanket personality. Or hurtful comments of how I’m a liar, because I’m too young and look too normal to be that sick. Sidenote: this one mostly comes from strangers.

Unfiltered First Thoughts: “Fuck you, you ignorant cow.” (Sorry, cows.) Give an icy smile, detach from the idiot, and ignore him for the rest of the duration.

What You Can Do: Assume that whatever someone else does or doesn’t participate in is for good reason, especially if you don’t know them well. Do not utter your judgments out loud for now, you might just be making a fool of yourself. Here’s another insider tip – there’s no need to feel awkward or utter polite sympathies around us at all! The best thing you can do is to trust that we can adult.

What I Can Try Doing in Future: Actually, I have been speaking up a little more of late, and think that this should continue. Sometimes, insensitive people need a taste of their own medicine too 😉 And by doing so, I am also speaking up for others who are like me.

These are just a few common scenarios, but you can probably spot the recurring theme. You never know how much effort someone else is putting into an activity that may be mindless to you, so just be kind. Everyone has their own personal disabilities, so to speak. Your greatest fear might be ridiculous in the eyes of everyone else. Just be mindful that the definition of ‘normal’ can vary; that simple awareness can make a big difference in the world we live in.

Also, my potential responses are just that – possibilities. Things can change, and it doesn’t have to be how you react to situations either. Put your own spin on things, do it your way, and according to your needs. The main aim should be constructive education (well most of the time at least!). Often people mean no harm, yet ignorance in itself can be harmful.

*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.

Read More: 7 Ways to Be a Better Friend to Someone with a Chronic Illness (and 3 Things You Should Never Do)

    For More Insight:

  1. The Majority Of Americans Still Go To Work While Sick (forbes.com): https://goo.gl/q5dZrW
  2. Bad Jobs, Bad Health? How Work and Working Conditions Contribute to Health Disparities (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov): https://goo.gl/VCkQDw
  3. How Employee Health and Wellbeing Affects Organisational Productivity (apsc.gov.au): https://goo.gl/d3co08
  4. The Anxiety That Arises in a Chronically Ill Person During Cold and Flu Season (themighty.com): https://goo.gl/Zf3Qdw
  5. Challenging insensitive comments and “who has it worse” competitions (ajourneythroughthefog.co.uk): http://bit.ly/2S1YzQA

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13 comments

  • “Fu#$% you! You ignorant cow!” Ha! Ha! Yep, that about sums it up. I do think speaking up is good, but in the way you suggest so that you can hopefully bring awareness and understanding. If they continue with the stupidity, well then, I say go with your first instinct;)

    Great scenarios and helpful guidance for how to deal. The medical advice…..ugg. But, most of the time it’s out of caring and trying to understand by using their own experience. However, when it’s just to make money off of the chronically ill, that’s when I think being a bit abrupt is good.

    • Hi Katie…agreed with the unwanted medical advice and snake oil saes…they can go f*ck off. Haha well yea, those are real thoughts that cross my mind, it can be so frustrating!

  • “sorry cows” – that made me laugh!

    This is good for someone like me who has really struggles to maintain a filter of what’s going on in my head and what I eventually say!! But seriously some people don’t think before they speak and some do not understand the consequences of them exposing their coughs and colds to others, which now, in these Covid-19 times I hope people have developed a better understanding of.

  • Yes! I get some genuine ‘you look great/young/happy’ comments, which I can say thanks for. I avoid sick people whenever possible and get annoyed when folks come to events while sick.
    It’s so important to speak up for your own health/safety/peace of mind. We all deserve to feel comfortable, and you have laid out several socially challenging situations well!

  • I hear you and boy am I glad that my husband understands and shields me from so of this stupid language. I did stand up for myself strong this year about the holidays. His father is 92 and he hasn’t seen him in a couple of years and is planning to go home for the holidays. Last night I expressed my deep concern about the family not understanding the importance of no one coming to see his dad for at least a week before David gets there. It’s bad enough that he has to travel there but I don’t need all these people dropping in and out just because it’s not “nice” to tell people not to come over. Not only do we live in a COVID world but my immune disorders make being around germs much harder. It really pisses me off to hear you don’t look sick! What, do I have to be dying to look sick?

    • Hi Melinda, it can be really tough for society to understand, can’t it? We do have a long way to go in terms of awareness, but I hope we’re slowly getting there. I hope you take good care of yourself and put yourself first x

  • Yes, all of this! My tolerance level is so low. I’m glad I can work from home and don’t have to deal with inconsiderate sickies. I’m also not big on sharing food, even though it’s part of Asian culture. I’m the oddball that always asks for a separate bill and separate dishes for two reasons: a) protect my health and b) avoid the dishes I really can’t eat. At first people were a bit offended because this is Asia and it’s part of the culture, but it’s amazing how quickly people change when they realize how much it affects your health.

    The last shared meal I committed to was for a birthday party a few years ago. When I got there, they already had several bottles of wine and platters of meat on the table. I excused myself from the bill right then and there since I don’t drink and I’m not paying for someone else and I’m not a big meat eater. Frankly I was surprised that people expected all of us to chip in on that! (No one had an issue with it except me. LOL)

  • These made me chuckle but they’re so spot on, and I love how you’ve covered each one by breaking them down. Number 3 is a kicker sometimes, really hard to know how to handle it when they do mean well (which isn’t always the case, but often is). I love that you “usually just smile and nod a la Miss Universe style”! xx

    • Thanks Caz! Heh these happened a lot when I first started working and meeting people as a young adult. We all learn and grow as time goes by I guess 😉 Yes! Good time to practice patience and exercise your smile muscles 😉

  • These are great tips for awkward situations! It can be so hard to speak up but our health is worth it.

  • Actually, another strat would be to say “Why thank you!” and look really appreciative when they say you don’t look sick (kind of like how people say “thanks for the compliment” when someone doesn’t sell them booze without an ID). After all, you spend hours some days trying to look normal, so isn’t it kind of good you did just then to this prick? It might hurt saying that, but it’s a polite kick-your-ass comeback, because seeing your honest thankfulness and taking their nasty remark as a compliment, they’ll probably get knocked off their pedestal, because that is NOT the kind of reaction they were going for. People tend to stutter and walk away wide eyed after a reply like that. That’s the way bullies work.

    • Haha…I think some of them actually meant to pay a ‘real compliment’, and wouldn’t get it 😉 Just a note – I would say that some of these, especially the last one, would have been more applicable in my youth. But good to list them all regardless 🙂 Cheers!

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