Words Are Powerful. Stop Calling Me a Patient.

Written by Tahnie Woodward on July 25, 2017
patient

Warrior. Survivor. Overcomer. Conqueror.

Patient. Sick. Suffering. Disabled.

Stopping to think about the words we use every day can have a huge impact on your world. At the very least, for yourself and your own life.

My father taught me to recognize the negativity surrounding the word “hate.” It’s been about 11 years since he brought this to my attention. I’m now 33 and I’ve done my best to eliminate this word from my vocabulary — as well as from my daughter’s. Even simply thinking it, I get a bad taste in my mouth.

One of my spiritual gurus, Danielle LaPorte, did a little experiment with her son on apples and the power of words. Literally. All they needed were apples, words, and her kitchen.

The apples that received words of negativity rotted much faster. Her findings are fascinating, but at the same time, not surprising at all: Words matter. The science behind this has been explored similarly in living plants, too, with a study suggesting plants learn from experience.  

Now imagine me as the apple or the plant

When someone refers to me as a “patient,” I immediately forget all of my triumphs. I feel like I become all the negative stereotypes surrounding that word.

I know it differs for everyone. But for me, when I hear the word patient, I see what you were probably thinking of. Someone who’s sick, lying in a hospital bed, relying on others from day to day.

The ironic thing is, I’ve spent more of my life out of the hospital than actually in the hospital. In fact, my last hospitalization was 7 1/2 years ago when I gave birth to my daughter.

I’m so much more than a patient.

It’s true that I’m living with a rare chronic illness that affects less than 500 people in the United States and 2,000 people worldwide. It’s a genetic condition that causes the overproduction of a key amino acid, and therefore has an impact on every cell in my body. Yet, that’s only one facet of the hologram of my entire being.

I’m also someone who’s overcome tremendous odds. When I received my diagnosis at 16 months old, the doctors told my parents I wouldn’t live to see my 10th birthday. I’m alive right now because my mother donated her kidney to me 22 years ago.

Where I am today: a woman with a Bachelor of Science in human development and family studies.

A human being who used my body to create another human being who has now been on this earth for seven years.

A bookworm.

A spiritual being having a human experience.

Someone who feels the beat of music in every fiber of her being.

An astrology nerd and believer in the power of crystals.

I’m someone who dances in my kitchen with my daughter and lives for the giggles that erupt from her mouth.

I’m many more things, too: friend, cousin, thinker, writer, highly sensitive person, goofball, nature lover.

I’m many different kinds of human before I’m a patient.

Passing along the torch of kindness

Kids are especially sensitive to the power of words, mostly when the adults using them decide what the definition behind them is. I’ve seen this happen many times in the rare disease community.

If you tell a child they’re a patient — a sick, fragile, or weak person — they start to take on that identity. They start to believe that no matter how they truly feel, maybe they really are “just a patient” at the core of their being.

I’ve always been mindful of this, especially around my daughter. She’s petite for her age and frequently gets comments from other children about how short she is.

I’ve done my best to teach her that she can acknowledge the fact she’s not as tall as the majority of her peers, that people come in all different sizes. Their height has nothing to do with their potential in life or how much kindness they’re capable of extending.

It’s time to be more conscious of the power behind the words we choose. For our kids, for our future.  

Not all words carry the same emotional weight for everyone, and I’m not saying we should all walk on eggshells when speaking to each other. But if there’s even a question, go with the most empowering choice. Whether online or in real life (but especially online), speaking with kindness ends up benefitting everyone involved.

Words can be tremendously empowering. Let us choose those that uplift and watch ourselves rise as a result.


Tahnie Woodward is a writer, mother, and dreamer. She was named one of the top 10 inspirational bloggers by SheKnows. She enjoys meditating, nature, Alice Hoffman novels, and dancing in the kitchen with her daughter. She’s a huge advocate for organ donation, a Harry Potter nerd, and has loved Hanson since 1997. Yes, that Hanson. You can connect with her on Instagram, her blog, and Twitter.

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