I Hope You Feel Better

I hope you feel better.

They mean well. They always do. It’s what people say when they hear someone they know is in pain or ill or uncomfortable. I’ve learned that tears and “Why would you say that to me?” while an accurate reflection of how it makes me feel is pretty much guaranteed to lead to all sorts of unpleasantness I don’t want to have to deal with.

Whoa where did that come from I was just trying to be nice. What’s wrong with her? Can’t you just take it for what it’s meant?

I really can’t. For one thing my brain doesn’t process subtext quickly enough to have conversations at full neurotypical voice conversation speed — I’m doing the best I can keeping up with the text alone. But I don’t wear a sign that says “I am not good at auditory processing.” If I did I’d be explaining that all the time too. I don’t like talking that much.

(What’s that mean? It means I hear fine. I hear everything. ((When tinnitus isn’t in the way meh.)) What I have trouble with — and sometimes it’s harder than others — is pulling the thread of one person’s voice out of everything else that’s coming in through my ears and turning sound into meaning. If there’s a television in my visual field this task gets harder. This is why I take books to restaurants; I usually can’t make out what the person I’m eating with is saying anyway.)

Well. I can take it as it’s meant when it’s someone who doesn’t know me. When the person saying it doesn’t know that I have a disease that leaves me in pain all the time and exhausted all the time and makes it hard to walk and think and work and all the Weird Shit that goes along with it I can accept “I hope you feel better” because it doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s just politeness.

When the person who’s saying it has heard me or read me (often we’ve also had the conversation amndaw wrote about in her Who Hates to Hear They Look Great? post) it hurts. Lately I’ve been not eating much and throwing up a lot and it’s not a lot of fun. I mentioned that I didn’t feel good at my LiveJournal and every comment was a form of this. I even got one in imperative voice: “feel better soon.”

I have a chronic disease that isn’t curable and I have not heard of it going into remission. This is not temporary. Sometimes the symptoms are excruciating. Sometimes the symptoms aren’t so bad. They never go away. Even if I never feel any better than I do right now my life will still be worth living and I’ll still be happy and I’ll be okay because I work really hard at living my life and being as happy as I can in it. For me it includes accepting that I will not get better. It also includes some complaining about feeling rotten because accepting that I won’t get better doesn’t turn it into rainbow-flavored unicorn shit.

Demands that I feel better discount all that.

I want to tell people to please not say that to me. But I know how it’ll go. I’ll be the mean cripple yelling at people who were just trying to be nice. So I mostly don’t say it.

Bonus Section:
Since most essays from marginalized people on the topic of Insensitive Things Privileged Folks Have Said To Us will garner at least one comment along the lines of “Well if you’re going to tell people they shouldn’t say whatever how about you tell us what we should say.” At which I’m like thanks for the derailment attempt that’s so thoughtful! I am so delighted to do this work for you you have no idea. But I do actually have something here. An expression of sympathy that doesn’t include a request or demand that I do something impossible is always nice. I’m a really big fan of “That sucks. I’m sorry you don’t feel good.”

About kaninchenzero

Kaninchen Zero is a woman-focused social justice activist, queer, trans, poly, kinky, atheist, socialist, a gamer, happy in a legal interracial same-sex marriage in Texas, and nearly forty. She has an overlookable physical disability (she can walk but slowly, painfully, and with a limp) and mental illnesses she can't hide any more. Other blog-ish type stuff can be found at her LiveJournal, her Dreamwidth, and her Tumblr. Short-form fiction is mostly at her story blog. The official short form of her handle is k0, pronounced kaynull or kaynought. The avatar is her own drawing.

26 thoughts on “I Hope You Feel Better

  1. Thanks for this post. My mental condition fluctuates a lot, so it makes sense when people say something about feeling better soon to me. ON the other hand, I also hate it when they say this about something that will *not* go away. Like, when I am on the edge of a meltdwon form anxieyt/overload/etc., this can actually get better and it makes sense if people hope for it to go away, but my chronic “baseline” sort of overloaded state will most likely not go away, and I hate it when people seem to expect it will. The most hated version of this dismissal of the chronic nature of my non-neurotypicality, is when people say “but we’re working to get you itno a more suitable settng” (background: institutionalized for over two years on absolutely unsuitable psychiatric wards, places that might be suitable for me have waiting lists of years, chances are I’ll have to lie myself into less suitable places). Stop that, stop that, stop that, and only start “hoping I’ll feel better” again when there is actually a reason to believe it. Slaphead bonus points if you’re in your fifties or older and tell me that my current situation is “temporary” and I’m young (in my twenties) and have my life ahead of me. Life itself is temporary, stupid. My former social worker was like that.

  2. Thanks for the reminder. I have a variety of chronic things going on, including chronic pain, and sometimes fall into the “hope you feel better soon” response anyway. I don’t mean it in a magic wand kind of way–knowing full well that the other person’s difficulties are not just going to go away–but more in a “hope you get over the crest of this particular wave soon” way. I’ve also heard it enough from the well-meaning that it seems like a polite response by now.

    Unfortunately, the other person doesn’t automatically know what I mean by it, and that I’m not using it in the more usual sense! Which really is not helpful in any way, to put it mildly, even though I try to take it as just another well-meaning social script without a lot of thought behind it, instead of getting irked at this demonstration that the person saying it Does Not Understand At All. (That is hard sometimes!)

    Maybe, instead, I should just say something closer to what I generally mean: “Sorry you’re having a hard time. It must be frustrating, and it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed sometimes.”

  3. Ooch. That was a little difficult for me to read, ’cause that’s something I’m guilty of pretty often. But since it was (as you’re well aware) pointed out fairly recently to me that it’s problematic, I’m certainly trying to change that.

    It always sucks in the immediate moment when people call out stuff I’m guilty of–I feel really bad. But, on the other hand, without people doing it I wouldn’t change at all, so in the long run I’m really grateful.

    Thank you for this post, basically. I don’t know whether it was easy or hard to write–though I know I’d’ve had trouble with it–but it was well-worth reading.

  4. I prefer “feel better” to “get better.” The first implies relatively pain free days and stable emotions. The other is unicorns. But that’s my personal preference (all the e-mails I got while I was out of school said get better, as if resting and relaxing would make it go away) but when it comes to talking to other people… I’m of that “Sorry, that sounds suckish. Anything I can do?” (The second part is if … well… I’m in a situation to do anything – you’re having a bad day, I’ve got some candy you’re not allergic to… whatever.)

  5. I tend to read the phrase to be about feelings, as opposed to symptoms. So maybe I will feel better, even if nothing changes in my health – the crises may pass, I may be able to cope a bit better at least.

    I prefer to say, “I hope things get easier for you soon.” because that’s rarely impossible – unless someone is coming to the end of their illness, in which case all you can offer is sympathy.

  6. @urocyon: I interpreted the phrase the same way, to be honest. I’d never even thought that someone might interpret it as meaning permanently, just as “I hope there are fewer flareups in the near future”.

    Of course, now that I know people will interpret it differently than I would…

  7. Codeman – if someone does, and like ouyangdan, they have taken the time to tell us, it can’t hurt to change our way of expressing sympathy, acting correct socially. (Which I’m terrible at – my friend’s mom died, “I’m so sorry, I’ve got Bollywood and irreverence whenever you need it!” and bowed out – she’s much more religious than I am, so most of the comments were in that flavor which makes me uncomfortable. Of course, that’s all part of Facebook – she wouldn’t say this *to me*, but I get to see it anyway.)

    My mom is “I’m sorry you hurt” (last night) and “Sorry you are in pain on the day of rain” (this morning) – at least in texts.

    My sister is – “You’re depressed again? WHAT?” Bless her heart. 😉

  8. ‘I hope you feel better’ doesn’t bother me as much as, ‘I’ll pray for you.’

    I choose to interpret it as ‘may you feel better tomorrow than you did today’, as opposed to an absolute demand to get ‘cured’. And since my condition is variable, it’s entirely possible that I will feel better tomorrow.

  9. Dogged – I choose to accept “I’ll pray for you” as a gesture of kindness, a sign that the person saying it cares about me and my health, whether I believe it will have any affect or not (I don’t). It’s the only way to keep the few friends I have who are very religious happy and the family friends happy and the relatives…

  10. D’oh – oh this bodes well for my exam in 40 minutes – I don’t mean it’s the only way, I just mean it’s a simple way to keep the peace. As long as they don’t ask me to pray.

  11. Kaitlyn – That’s great if it works for you. I’ve often been told I should accept it in excatly this way, but I don’t. There’s such a long history of bogus ‘healings’ of disabled people, of disabled people being told that God would cure them if only their faith was strong enough, that when someone says that to me – especially someone who knows I’m an atheist – I feel it’s a dismissal of both my disability and my atheism.

  12. i’m with you, Dogged – although i’d like to be able to accept it as a good thought, it feels like a denial of both my disability and my atheism. when i comfort religious folks, i don’t inject my atheism into it, so i feel i should get similar respect by comforting me without a proselytizing component.

  13. Dogged, I’m totally with you.

    From people I know, and who understand that my disability is a permanent thing but that my level of pain varies from day to day, I do interpret it as ‘I hope things improve for you soon.’

    From strangers, who tend to not just say they’ll pray for me but that they’ll pray for God to heal me, I don’t take it well. It’s not uncommon for me to cheerfully tell them that God made me this way so surely He intends me to stay this way. (I’m not Christian, but have enough friends/family who are that I’m okay with phrasing things in a way that is applicable to their beliefs)

    Kaninchenzero, I hate the ‘feel better’ and ‘get better’ stuff, too.

    Again, from friends, I can accept it when I’ve mentioned that things are particularly bad with my disability. From them, I take it to mean ‘I hope you get back to your baseline’. Or at least, I try to. I fail sometimes and get pissed off because this state of constant pain (though the levels are variable) is my LIFE damn it!

    A friend of mine, last week, said the worst thing in that vein I’ve had anyone say to me before. My boyfriend had just brought out my night meds, and as I was taking them, my friend said ‘I wish you didn’t have to take those.’ I’m afraid I snapped at her a bit; I said that it was about like wishing I wasn’t short. She was a bit hurt, but at least she got it.

    I will use it talking to other PWDs when, for example, they have the flu. Because I do hope they get over the flu, and that they will feel better when the virus is gone.

    I try not to use it when talking about the actual disability, and try to stick with just acknowledging the suckiness and how I can help, even if it’s just suggesting things.


  14. This is one of those that doesn’t bother me to hear it all that often (sometimes it really, really does, no lie), but which I try to avoid using myself, and I need to try at that harder to make sure people understand that by “better” I mean “better than you do right now,” not “all better and symptom-free.” Thank you for the reminder. Wonderful post.

  15. @TheNerd: Could you summarize the gist of that video, since it’s just a person talking at the camera and there’s no transcript or captions?

  16. Context is definitely important, I think.
    If I have told someone that my depression is particularly bad, then “I hope you get better” is ok. And if my grandma want’s to pray for things to get better for me, then I am ok with that because I know how important her faith is to her, but that she is also aware of and ok with the fact that I am agnostic at most and wouldn’t try to convert me. So basically, when it’s people I know who say something about a concrete set of circumstances hopefully changing for the better.

    Likewise, I do not wish my cousin to “get healthy and stop being schizophrenic”, but when he tells me that things are especially tough, I do hope for him to have a better day/week/time soon.

    What I don’t get is how complete strangers or people who know next to nothing about you could decide that you need to get “better”. What if what they are seeing is actually a PWD having a really good day, and they proceed to tell that that apparently, having a good day by PWD-standarts isn’t enough, because you still aught to get “better”?

    People need to mind their own buisness sometimes.

  17. I don’t mind “I hope you feel better soon” because most people who say that to me understand that if I say something, I’m feeling worse than “normal” for me. So they are really saying “I hope you get back to where you were”.

    What I can’t stand is “I hope you get better” which to me sounds the same as “why are you STILL miserable?”

    I know there is little difference. Each PWD is set off by some version of these statements. I think we can all agree that clueless comments are exacerbating 🙂

  18. I’m a fan of the “damn, that sucks” response myself. But it sounds callous to some people, so I try to be careful how I use it and to who (whom??).

    My bestest friend (who has many similar disabilities as I do) and I have such different needs in this area. She tends to need lots of sympathy and “oh dear”s and mushy “get betters” and stuff. I tend to need just simple acknowledgment, agreement that it sucks for me right now, and maybe some righteous indignation with the world for allowing it to suck so much. We’ve learned, over the years, how to give one another what each other needs instead of what we like for ourselves. The day she finally stopped trying to make me feel better when I complained and just agreed with me that it sucked was such a victorious day for me. 🙂

    As far as the prayer bit, I take the “I’m praying for you” in the same line as “I’m sending good thoughts” or “I’m giving you distance reiki” or whatever that person’s particular thing is. I personally figure any good vibes sent out into the universe on my behalf certainly can’t hurt, and if they happen to help, then I’ll take the extra help! But I can see where that might be frustrating to some people. From the people in my life who say it, it’s cool, and I like when people check in especially “is it okay if I pray for you?” – for example. But, yea, when it’s along the lines of “I’m putting you in my church’s prayer chain so that God can heal you” – it can make me uncomfortable. I agree with lauren that context is a big part of it.

    Like, my brother whose spirituality is shamanistic in nature recently told me that he’s working on fixing me, and I gatta say, I don’t like that. I told him that’s not the kind of help I want from my brother. OTOH, I can tell that it’s important to him to keep trying, so it’s hard to be angry with him for basically doing what makes sense to him to do to help me. Although, it will certainly be another victorious day if I can get him to just acknowledge my pain and nod his head sagely and go “damn, that sucks.”

  19. Pretty sure I’ve been guilty of “hope you feel better soon”. Others have been more eloquent than I probably can be at the moment about the intended sentiment behind it – just “this is someone who I care about, they are hurting, I wish they were not hurting, or at least hurting less”.

    Is “I hope things get easier soon” better or worse?

  20. This hit me right where I live, in both senses. I’m disabled too, so I know how irritating it is to hear it, but at the same time… saying it is reflexive, and training it out of myself is proving way harder than it should be under the circumstances. I really like your suggested alternative, and I will start using it myself as well as suggesting it to others. Thank you.

  21. This crap is directly up the alley of Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” Link: http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/brightsided.htm
    It’s a mode of thinking that’s destructive not just to the person hearing it but also to the person perpetuating it. It’s not just that it’s a failure of empathy(although I’m certainly not discounting that un-small aspect,)but, in the larger picture, it’s a massive failure to understand that wishing it so ain’t actually enough. Life isn’t “The Secret,” and demanding unrelenting “hope” from anyone- yourself, a stranger, a friend- is fucking toxic as hell.

  22. See, I’m completely different in a strangely similar way: I have a chronic illness, and I like hearing “I hope you feel better soon” — since my illness waxes and wanes, I appreciate the knowledge from my circle that I will feel better in days/weeks/months, and although it is a temporary feel-better, at least I get that. I’m completely atheist, but the idea of feel-good vibes appeals to me.


    Reading some of these responses perhaps highlighted to me that I didn’t hear “feel better” at all in real life (my high school acquaintances have rather drifted from me upon learning that I can’t do everything), and I’m, again, appreciative of the caring my online friends display.

  23. Thanks for this. I also dislike the “getting/feeling better” thing.

    One thing I really like is “I have no idea what this is like for you, please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” (When it is true, obviously). One of my issues I had with a(non pwd) friend is that she would treat my chronic illness like a cold or something that I would get over and I really needed an acknowledgment that this was different that anything she had experienced. I also love the offer of assistance as it turns vague concern into a concrete offer of assistance.

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