Dangerous Assumptions. Compassionate Curiosity

"Why do you need a seat? You do not look sick."
"That person is not dieting. What a liar. S/he is too overweight. S/he must be lazy."
"Another missed day at work. Slacker."
"Leaving another party early? Do you not like to socialize or are you just selfish?"
"Anxiety again... What an attention-seeker!"
"What is she waiting for? Isn't she going to have a child already? I guess she is more of a career woman."

All of these statements and questions are just a few of the many assumptions that people who live with chronic physical illnesses may have to face throughout their lifetime. When people think of prejudice, they usually associate it with assumptions about people based on ethnicity, race, or religion. However, people who live with chronic illness experience prejudice as well, and if someone is a minority who lives with a chronic illness then they might experience double prejudice. One may not think about the impact of his/her assumptions on others, but it is important for people to understand that these assumptions can be very hurtful--even dangerous.

A person who has missed many work days because of illness, oftentimes experiences a lot of shame and may be concerned about being perceived as incompetent or lazy. Imagine how frustrating it must be for someone who is a dedicated hard-worker to have to be home-ridden due to physical or medical limitations. Imagine what it would feel like for that person to hear that others question his/her loyalty to the job.

At times, people casually may ask a young woman, "when are you planning to have a baby?" This question may be asked with no mal intent; however, rarely does one think about how loaded of a question this may be. What if the young woman is incapable of having a child? What if pregnancy presents with a host of medical complications for the young woman?

Many people with hypothyroidism struggle with significant weight gain and some people with other illnesses may be taking medication that results in significant weight gain. They are not unaware of their body weight. They do not need others making them feel any worse about it than they already might feel.

I can go on and on about such assumptions. Assumptions are dangerous. Assumptions can be hurtful. Assumptions are inconsiderate. Assumptions are selfish....rather than assume, perhaps gently inquire. It is ok to have curiosity. One may non-judgmentally ask, "Are you ok? I noticed you have been missing a lot of work lately" or "you have been very anxious lately. Are you doing ok?"

Now, not all loved ones, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, employers, neighbors, etc... are going to be capable of or even interested in being non-assuming. This is when it is important for the person living with the illness to educate. I know it can be frustrating to have to constantly educate others about what you are going through but if you let others make these assumptions, you are likely to remain angry, frustrated, misunderstood, and even depressed or helpless. You do not have to be helpless. Perhaps say, "Yes I have been missing a lot of work and I wish I had your health to be able to come to work every day. My illness does not allow me to do this." Or perhaps, "If you had my thyroid, you'd be overweight too. I can eat salad all day and still not lose any weight." Or, "Put yourself in my shoes. I can stay here and party with you guys all night long and then pay for it in body pain and suffering for the next week, or I can take care of myself, go home and rest, and be able to see you again for a bit next weekend." You may still feel angry that you have to explain yourself when others do not have to, but at least you stood up for and took care of yourself.

Maybe next time a seemingly healthy looking person asks for a seat on the bus, you can (assuming you feel healthy) give up your seat and kindly ask if that person is Ok. We do not always have access to what is going on inside another person's body. An assumption may pop into your head, but rather than treat it as fact, treat is as just one of many possibilities and be curious instead. You may choose to assume that the person asking for your seat is being selfish and then you may watch that person collapse. Assumptions are dangerous but curiosity can go a long way.

Happy 4th of July!