I look perfectly healthy, but the truth is, I suffer from a rare health condition called postural tachycardia syndrome (or, POTS syndrome). I can sit in front of you at lunch and I can safely promise you that you would not see a single symptom that is raging beneath my smile.
Yet I can be thriving for three hours and curled up in my bed nauseated, dizzy and weak for the next six hours. I can be on the go for days and lying in a hospital bed the week after. My body throws me a surprise party often and as surprises go, you don't see them coming. And if it is difficult for others to understand, imagine what it’s like me to live with the fact that I don't know what’s coming next.
If you have a chronic health condition, chances are you’ve dealt with people who refuse to believe that you suffer from your illness (as if you need yet another thing to deal with on top of your illness). If you don't have a chronic health condition, chances are you know someone who does and you’ve watched this happen to them.
Adding a layer of skepticism to an illness is not something that anyone should have to deal with, but it may be worth taking a moment to explain your condition to those around you.
Below are my best tips as to how to effectively communicate with people who question your illness. Once you master this, you are going to feel less stressed, more confident in your speech and much stronger.
Ready to change how you handle those who doubt?
1. Be concise. Be clear. Be confident.
You are going to master the ‘three Bs’ when you respond to anyone who doubts your health condition. And what you are not going to do is apologize for it. It's not your fault.
When someone says, “You don’t even look sick,” you’re going to respond kindly: “Thank you, but I am and it's a daily challenge. If you want to learn more about my health condition, please just ask'.” Period.
If you have to cancel that party you are going to? Try, "I’m symptomatic this evening and will not be able to come. I am looking forward to seeing you next time.” Period. Focus on how you react to what others say. Don’t waver. Look people in the eyes and speak sincerely with the added 'three Bs.’
2. Silence the skeptic.
This person just refuses to believe you. Often, they come out and tell you, “Maybe you’re just depressed,” or, “Mind over matter!” Kindly Educate. You are going to kindly educate but are only going to do this once.
So, an appropriate response to someone blatantly questioning your illness at all is, "I'd love to educate you on my health condition and symptoms if and when you would like to listen. Would you like to go to lunch to talk about it?”
You are not going to defend yourself. You are not going to justify. And you are especially not going to mention any of their alternative theories. If they say yes, then you grab a bite to eat and explain to them what is going on. If they continue to question you, get the check and politely leave — no explanation necessary.
3. Create boundaries.
Create boundaries with yourself and others. Be upfront with your friends and family that because your health is unpredictable, you typically will be a “maybe” at events. Set expectations for people that are realistic. This will save you a tremendous amount of frustration.
Secondly, create boundaries regarding who you are willing to surround yourself with. Before getting mad at those that question you, ask yourself if you have thoroughly explained what you’re going through. If people continue to question you, my best advice is to distance yourself or remove them from your life. Do not be harsh when creating and sharing boundaries. You want to make others feel loved and not stonewalled.
4. Lose the guilt.
This is a simple tip. When you cancel or pull back on your busy schedule, do so with the utmost love for yourself and with self-care. Lose the guilt and especially lose the worry of what others will think. WRevel in your healing!
5. Join a support group.
Joining a support group is going to aid in buoying you. This will help you while you are changing the way you communicate with others. Research and try out a few support groups because what you want to do is surround yourself with others who are focused on healing and living life.
When you combine these five steps, I absolutely promise you that, without fail, your confidence level will soar while your communication skills are refined and you’ll feel better dealing with this difficult part of your illness!