If you’ve ever had to explain your medical condition to a stranger, you’ve probably experienced the wide-eyed pity, the awkward silence, and the “Oh yeah, my cousin has that” comment. But the most frustrating experience of all may be when you patiently explain your condition to someone, and they immediately inform you that you’re mistaken, because that condition does not, in fact, exist. Seriously?
Regardless of your ailment, there’s always someone who doesn’t believe in it. From depression denialists to fibromyalgia truthers to those people who think you can vitamin-C your way out of any condition — you can be sure there’s a staple critic waiting to educate you on proper condition management.
It can be hard to know how to respond to these people in the moment. But I’ve been there, so here are some (just snarky enough) suggestions to shut down the disbelievers.
1. “My illness isn’t real? What a great philosophy! Do you use that on all your problems, or just other people’s?”
2. “Thank you so much for sending me that article on why my illness isn’t real. I can’t wait to print it, fold it into a paper airplane, and send it right back to your face.”
3. “Thank you so much for recommending this miracle vitamin that you think will cure me! Let me return the favor. You have got to try this: Take an apple, stick as much of it as possible in your mouth, and then hold it there without speaking. I really think it will help you a lot.”
4. “Aw, dang, now I have to update my list of real versus not real things. Santa: not real. My condition: not real. Your medical degree … ?”
5. Adopt a mystical tone of voice and whisper gently in their ear: “It’s okay that you don’t believe in my illness. It believes in you.”
6. Yell down at your body: “DO YOU HEAR THAT, SYMPTOMS? YOU’RE NOT REAL!” Look back up. “Yeah, they beg to differ.”
7. Dissolve into wisps of smoke like a ghost, and before you dissipate, use your last breath to whisper, “At last! Someone had the courage to tell me my disease is not real, and now my spirit is finally free.”
8. “Not real, eh? You know, I used to say the same thing about foot-in-mouth disease, but then I met you.”
9. “I know that you think you’re being helpful by suggesting all I need to do is drink water and exercise. But here’s the thing, there’s a fine line between helping and blaming, and that line is: did I ask for it? It’s the difference between a search engine and a pop-up ad. Don’t be a pop-up ad.”
10. “Ooh, are we just picking things we don’t like and saying they’re not real? Cool! I pick you!”
After that, spend the rest of the day ignoring them. If they protest, loudly announce that you are going to pound multivitamins until they go away.
Remember, it’s not anyone else’s business what you do or don’t experience with chronic illness. It’s especially not their place to tell you that your chronic illness isn’t real. While it’s easy to let those naysayers get under your skin, you can brush them off with a little dose of their own medicine. And remind them that until they walk a mile in your shoes, they can leave their comments at the door, thanks very much.
Elaine Atwell is an author, critic, and founder of The Dart. Her work has been featured on Vice, The Toast, and numerous other outlets. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.