How to be sensitive about medical issues, while keeping my own sanity?
April 9, 2019 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I have a family member who is often sick or injured. While the illnesses and injuries are nothing gravely serious, bad luck seems to befall them more often than most. They are also very dramatic about their pain and prognosis. I don't want to be insensitive or unsympathetic. But I am about to lose it. I need help figuring out how to manage my own frustration if there is no way to gently let this person know that they are being a diva.

They almost always spend hours googling their issues, self-diagnosing, and proclaiming that they are going to be out of commission for months and will probably need surgery, which culminates in a huge pity party over their sorry state, all before a doctor can make any official diagnoses. They also do not exercise regularly or consistently, do not stretch or take any other precautions for preventing injury, and they are overweight. They have repeatedly stated, "I'm old now, who cares." They are only in their 30's, very close in age to me, so I can't help but want to roll my eyes.

I am fully aware that my immense frustration with this family member is coming through in this Ask. I have done my very best to keep this frustration from showing when interacting with them, but today I had a "last straw" moment. They received their MRI results for an injury, and for the most part it's very good news. Definitely better than we were expecting, though expectations had been colored by Dr. Google and their self-diagnosis that basically the entire joint was utterly destroyed. The MRI results describe one "mild partial-thickness tear" to one tendon. They have yet to attend the followup appointment with their doctor.

My reaction was, "This looks like fairly positive news, right? No severe or full tears." They immediately leapt to, "This is bad, those tears don't heal on their own, but probably not enough for surgery." So not only would they have this injury FOREVER, but it's not even possible to fix via surgery? I snapped and said, "Can you let the surgeon make that determination?"

They are legitimately in pain. They are probably surprised to see the severity of the injury described as "mild" in comparison to their level of pain. They are, for the time being, legitimately disabled, and will be missing out on a lot of plans that they were looking forward to. I know it sucks to be in their place. But they are also not helping themself. They are still bumbling around carelessly, knocking around the injured limb and causing themself more pain. They are also expecting a level of sympathy and care commensurate with the much more severe injury they had diagnosed themself with, without any rational basis or expert opinion. I also suspect there's a psychosomatic element to their pain, where they are so convinced that they are very severely injured that their body physically feels it, which in turn reinforces their belief about their injury.

I'm also dreading when the doctor gives the okay to start physical therapy, and having to listen to the onslaught of complaints about how much it hurts, how stupid and useless the physiotherapists are, how there's something wrong that the doctor must've missed, on and on and on. And then when they inevitably give up on physical therapy, they will complain that their recovery is taking so long and they're still in pain, and oh my god. They will also likely re-injure themself by not having completed therapy, refusing to get into good physical shape, and continuing to be careless.

I suppose the impossible fantasy would be to help them develop a healthy relationship with their body. It would be amazing if they would finally take responsibility for their health, be more careful, get into better shape, follow doctors' instructions, and stop spiraling into dramatic pity parties every time they have an ailment. I know you can't make someone do any of those things if they don't want to.

I have tried talking to them, pointing out that they are not in fact "old" but have a lot of years to live. I have tried encouraging them to try out some exercise classes with me, such as a beginner yoga class, as a low-impact way to maintain the health and mobility of their joints. I have yet to take the tough love approach, though I am very tempted to tell them that the more they neglect their body now while they're still young, the harder it will be to get healthy in the future, and they will have decades of pain and misery ahead and I'm not signing up to help take care of them, not when they refuse to take care of themself while they are still perfectly able. Is there anything else I can do? And if not, is there any way to remove myself from these conversations about their health without harming the family relationship?
posted by keep it under cover to Human Relations (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well. Just reading this was making me very stabby, except for when you said she's in her 30s, when I briefly stopped to chortle. I think the correct answer is that you don't have to be a Noble Truth Teller (in fact, it will just make her feel victimized) but that you also don't really have to participate in these conversations. I would gently nope out as soon/often as you can. "Yeah, I'm sorry to hear that. That sounds hard. Did I mention I saw Us the other night?" etc. Like, just disengage.

It seems possible that she'll call you on it, and then you'll have to be honest (but kind). Which sucks! And it probably won't help! But at least you're protecting yourself and your One Wild and Precious Life from this bullshit.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:02 PM on April 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

You can review this information from NAMI about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and there is an article from, Helping Someone with PTSD, that may be helpful to review, including this:
Set boundaries. Be realistic about what you’re capable of giving. Know your limits, communicate them to your family member and others involved, and stick to them.
posted by Little Dawn at 2:03 PM on April 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

They immediately leapt to, "This is bad, those tears don't heal on their own, but probably not enough for surgery."

Proper response: "Okay." And then move on.

It really sounds like they need you to hear them vent, but not necessarily offer them a solution.
posted by HeyAllie at 2:14 PM on April 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

Chronic pain, even low level, is hard to live with. It can absorb pretty much all your mental real estate. Yes exercise might help, but finding the energy to exercise when pain is making getting through your day with enough "spoons" left to do anything doesn't always make it a helpful suggestion. It is also a very real thing to get into a state where your illness defines you, you learn helplessness and getting out of that mind set is very hard. I spent my life dealing with a mother with a shit tonne of medical issues and have managed to gather a mother in law with her own collection of chronic health issues. The only way to survive is to set boundaries. Do not get drawn into their pity parties, and stop trying to offer advice because then you will only resent them when they don't take your advice. Love them where they are how they are, do not support their victim mentality & if they do try to help themselves offer practical help not advice if you want to help. Otherwise as others have suggested above, when they complain, Agree that must suck, or make a polite response that brooks no further discussion on the subject & move on.
posted by wwax at 2:26 PM on April 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

Mentally I’ve had to reframe this behavior as a dysfunctional coping mechanism for seeking attention and care. That helps me feel less stabby and also helps me proactively look for other ways to demonstrate attention and care that feel good to the recipient as well as authentic to myself.

And yes, boundaries. “That sounds tough” and then move on or change the subject.
posted by stellaluna at 2:29 PM on April 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

It would be amazing if they would finally take responsibility for their health, be more careful, get into better shape, follow doctors' instructions, and stop spiraling into dramatic pity parties every time they have an ailment. I know you can't make someone do any of those things if they don't want to.

Yep. So why don't they want to? Why is their outlook so bleak? Why do they expect the worst? Do they think they deserve the worst? Because surely, one's 30s aren't old age, and all is not futile. Many people go to therapists and/or are prescribed medications to help them find their way out of a self-defeating worldview. I'm not saying your family member is depressed, but (absent the diva part) they sound a lot like me when I have been. If mental health isn't on their radar, but you think it should be, I'd suggest you raise the issue with the person you think most likely to be able to get through to them and then step away.
posted by mumkin at 2:53 PM on April 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Is there any other way through which this family member gets positive attention from loved ones—special hobbies or a job or an interesting passion? It sounds like being injured/in pain has become this person’s identifying trait to such an extent that it’s the topic of every interaction they’re involved in. Possibly they view it as a safe way to get attention/care and an easy conversation topic. We all like to feel loved and cared for by family and I’m sure your relative is no exception.

I would try dialing back your responses to their health as a conversation topic and try to introduce new lines of conversation between you, other things that communicate “I’m paying attention and I care about you.” Ask about their friends and neighbors, their job and coworkers, pets, family gossip, etc, anything to draw the focus of the conversation away from their health. If your relative asks “why don’t you want to talk about my X problem,” you could say something like “I’m just curious about what else is going on in your life and wanted to catch you up on mine. We have so much to talk about and i really want to hear about X.”
posted by sallybrown at 3:02 PM on April 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Agreed that chronic illness can be immensely damaging to mental health. It's also likely that they are prone to mental health spirals such as hypochondria and depression and anxiety. These are also all legitimate health issues.

They, unfortunately, don't owe it to you to do everything "right". Also please examine how fat-phobia and ableism may be coloring your view. There is no one healthy weight, and fat-phobia in medicine literally leads to misdiagnosis and death for people, especially women. Even if her weight is something affecting things, it doesn't mean she doesn't deserve respect. Exercise is also extremely difficult when in pain. All of this is just not easy to deal with.

And also, there's a meme/ running joke in the disabled/chronic ill community about people suggesting yoga to us, constantly. Literally, "But have you tried yoga." is like.... a very ableist response to illness. (There's even a podcast titled "Have you tried yoga?" that some of my friends listen to. For many of us, that type of exercise is unachievable, even if it would theoretically help.

Exercise theoretically helps me, but doing it regularly is fucking impossible. There are many things everyone "should" do for "better health" (whatever the hell that even means.) But people who are chronically ill/disabled are examined and routinely held to a higher standard than able-bodied people for managing our bodies which are already way harder to manage.

What you can do is set boundaries for yourself. If you just can't be there in a helpful way for this person without trying to control them or be frustrated at their behavior then you need to limit your time with them. It's okay for you to step away from these conversations. Change the subject. Tell them, "I'm very sorry I don't have more to offer in conversations about your health." I don't think it would be harmful to suggest a therapist. I found therapy really helpful specifically related to dealing with chronic illness. The main thing is that you suggest it to help with their stress, not to cure their illness.

I do understand. I often don't even want to be around my OWN drama of health, let alone subject other people. I've had to unfollow people on social media because it negatively affected my mental health. It's okay to set your boundaries if you can't be supportive in a way they need.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:10 PM on April 9, 2019 [34 favorites]

This is all really common in chronic pain cases. I get being frustrated by hearing about it all the time, but the pain is real (even if it is somatic) and it might help you to deal with it to change your attitude that her injuries are not serious.

There is good evidence that a course of CBT with a therapist experienced with chronic pain can help people actually experience less pain. Perhaps you could set boundaries as discussed above and suggest therapy as a redirect.
posted by lookoutbelow at 3:29 PM on April 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just to build on the excellent advice here, for you I really just have two suggestions:

1. This is not your problem to solve.
2. Kindly and warmly say to them "You know, I've realized I'm not the best person to talk to about his [health issues]. I love you, let's talk about other things."

Just so you know, in my late 30s I was suffering from a lot of issues including back issues and the results of a dislocated hip. I was about 40 lbs heavier than I am now. And although I was relatively active, in retrospect I was losing a lot of mobility and strength. No one could solve that for me. In my 40s I had a bit of an epiphany and now I'm a martial artist and after breaking my leg last year, just signed up for my first race of this season, a nice hilly 10k.

At 71 years old my MIL came to live with us on insulin, barely able to walk down the street, and in a lot of pain. She hooked herself up with some experts and she's lost 70 lbs and does aquafit and is quite active.

But no one could do that for her or me, and not everyone is going to have those results.

Still...there is no reason for you to start plotting how you will be stuck caring for this person in 20 more years - that is a little bit you buying into the drama. They do have time to sort this out, if it's possible, and if they want to, and if they don't, then they will have different strengths and stuff. In other words don't be the drama carrier on the other side. Let it go, let it go, take up a different topic-hobby with this person, and just love them where they are at.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:33 PM on April 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but there are a couple of assumptions that seem to be driving responses so I wanted to address them quickly.

I initially thought to keep gender out of the question, but "they" are a man, not a woman. He is also not chronically ill or injured. He is someone who frequently catches colds and has sprained multiple joints by being careless or attempting physical feats that he does not have the base level of fitness for. He is fully capable of exercising like an able-bodied person when he's not actively recovering from an ailment, he just chooses not to.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:38 PM on April 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you want seem kind and sympathetic without enduring their obsessiveness and drama, say things like, "That must be hard for you." "I'm sorry you have this to worry about," or some other thing about what they're going through mentally -- NOT about the illness or injury itself, or what they might do about it. Make a comment about their feelings or their experience. The person isn't rational about their health, so don't try reasoning with them about it. Any advice or assurances you give are going to give them something to push push against.
posted by wryly at 3:58 PM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

On the psychological side of this:

This sounds like a request for care, attention and fawning that they are too passive, shy, or otherwise guarded to make explicit.

You can ignore, deflect, set boundaries. Or you can provide some nurturing energy to meet the need they won't name.

On the physical side:
I complained to a male recently about a similar issue. I said it's hard to be close to someone that always has some kind of problem. He said, do you think I want to have xyz health issues? I said, probably not, but what are you doing to fix it? You don't get any sympathy from me if you won't do anything to help yourself.

Another thing you can do is ask, what are you looking for in talking to me about this? Maybe this person won't be totally honest with you but the question will help them be honest with themselves.
posted by crunchy potato at 4:13 PM on April 9, 2019

I've been guilty of a little of this in the past, though with different symptoms than your relative is dealing with. Here were some of the thoughts that were driving it for me:
  • If SYMPTOM is serious, that means it's not normal — which is good, because if it was normal and everyone experienced it, I'd just have to put up with it forever!
  • If SYMPTOM is serious, that means I'm not a bad or weak person for being upset about it.
  • If SYMPTOM is serious, that means I'm not crazy for being scared about it.
  • If SYMPTOM is serious, that means I'm allowed to prioritize getting relief from it.
These are, uh, not super rational thoughts. Like, obviously something can be normal without being nonstop for everyone, and something can be upsetting even if it isn't dangerous, and etc etc etc.

But having these admittedly-not-rational thoughts affected what was and wasn't reassuring for me to hear. It meant that when I complained about how serious SYMPTOM was, it was less helpful for someone to tell me "No it's not" (which, in my head, set off the admittedly-not-rational thoughts and made me hear "You'll be putting up with this forever, and you're a bad person for minding, and blah blah etc etc etc"). It was more helpful for someone to directly address the stuff I was actually worried about: "You shouldn't have to feel this way" or "Yeah, that must be scary," or "It's good that you're seeing someone about it."

I wonder if a similar approach might help with your relative.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:42 PM on April 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

My response would be “Wow that sounds really hard and painful. It’s not something you want to go through twice! What steps can you take to ensure it doesn’t happen again?”

It shows that you’re engaged and listening, it also opens up a conversation that MAYBE this is something preventable that they can be, you know, avoided with (exercise, diet, whatever). You can encourage them towards doing x,y and z and in the event they choose not to do anything and occurs again, that’s when I’d shrug my shoulders and opt out of dealing with them because what did they expect? They’re refusing to change anything about their lifestyle yet expecting different results. You can lead a horse to water and all that.
posted by Jubey at 4:50 PM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

As above, boundaries.

About this point:
is there any way to remove myself from these conversations about their health without harming the family relationship?

There is a very real risk you will damage the relationship by exercising boundaries. Your family member is getting something that they want from you by engaging in this behaviour. I can't say what it is - maybe it's attention - but it must benefit him in some way. Once you withdraw the reward for his current behaviour, the person may behave unpredictably. He may be angry with you. He may accuse you of not caring. He may threaten to self-harm. I'm not saying this will come to pass, but it is a possibility.

Decide for yourself what you want to get out of a relationship with your family member. Are you ok with possibly damaging the relationship in exchange for excusing yourself from these discussions? If the benefits to yourself of changing your behaviour exceed the risks to the relationship, then do proceed. If it gets hard, remind yourself of the benefits to you of having good boundaries. Get some support. A therapist or other confidante will help you during this transition period.

Other family members may also take issue with your new behaviour and attitudes. The other family members might try to make you feel guilty or shame you. If you feel comfortable in those relationships, talk to the other family members and explain why you are acting in a new way. They may understand, they may not. You may risk those relationships too, or you may strengthen them if you find a secret ally.

Think this one through before making changes. Being on the receiving end of unending misery is exhausting and depressing. It's quite likely that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but that's on you to decide.
posted by crazycanuck at 5:20 PM on April 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't really have any suggestions because I would be extremely impatient with this and would probably tell them I didn't want to hear it, but I want to tell you that I really feel for you on this one. It sounds extremely frustrating!

From a 33 year old, 'old' lady.
posted by thereader at 5:54 PM on April 9, 2019

Please differentiate between
1. Not taking care of oneself
2. Being a diva about health problems

They are two different things. Don’t try to change No.1. You will only make an enemy.
Set boundaries for No.2.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:56 PM on April 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

So not only would they have this injury FOREVER, but it's not even possible to fix via surgery?

did you not realize this was a thing that happens to people?

- every adjective in an MRI report, like "mild," has a definition. they aren't value judgments. your relative is correct that tendon tears usually don't heal on their own, and they are correct that too bad for PT to fix but not bad enough for surgery to be recommended is both a real category and one of the worst positions to be in. and MRIs are not perfect; any surgeon who takes your relative's case will explain that they won't know the full extent of the damage until they're in there looking at it. a partial tear visible on an MRI can easily turn out to be a full tear in reality. for god's sake don't tell him this if he doesn't already know.

psychosomatic doesn't mean what you're using it to mean.

this is all to say that you are responding to his dramatic way of talking about his medical issues by downplaying his injuries in a way that's no more likely to be accurate. you can't know that the MRI is "good news" if he hasn't had it interpreted by his doctor yet.

and look, he sounds like a chore. he sounds exhausting. if I were you I would distance myself from him physically and talk to him less than half as often as he would like you to. if you can't keep yourself from telling him to look on the bright side of a torn tendon, the best way to stay sympathetic is to stay away and shut your earballs. if you live with him, I sincerely think you should get out, for your own health, and that goes double if you are married to him. but he does not sound particularly unrealistic or ignorant about the severity of his own problems.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:11 PM on April 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

I know you've obscured the family relationship intentionally, but I want to give you some advice in case this person is your spouse/partner, and I suspect that he is based on how involved you are with his medical care. Please ignore my comment if I'm wrong! In a marriage or similar relationship, this communication dynamic is something a couple needs to talk about. I personally am a symptom-googler and catastrophizer and I kind of just need time to get it out of my system. If you have a quieter, calmer moment, you need to bring this up and take a collaborative approach to trying to fix the communication dynamic.

I have tried talking to them, pointing out that they are not in fact "old" but have a lot of years to live. I have tried encouraging them to try out some exercise classes with me, such as a beginner yoga class, as a low-impact way to maintain the health and mobility of their joints.

Did you ask him if these are things he wants? The marriage dynamic feels like it may have fallen into codependence, where you feel responsible for your partner rather than like he's an equal adult. You also need to decide right now if you can stay married to this person if he never develops a healthy relationship with his body, or what you view as a healthy relationship. I've never done couples counseling but this seems like the kind of thing MeFi recommends it for.
posted by capricorn at 7:17 PM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

To avoid making my previous comment too long, I wanted to add that I'm someone who will tend to panic, catastrophize, and avoid an issue because I'm too caught up in obsessive negative thoughts to actually deal with it head on. What I need from loved ones in these scenarios is...honestly, I'm not sure. Sometimes a distraction, sometimes just patience while I work it out of my system. But if someone in my life was getting secondhand anxiety from my panic, I would want to try and find a solution that didn't force them to deal with it constantly. So I think you need to ask him if there's a way to remove yourself from the conversations without damaging the family relationship.
posted by capricorn at 7:20 PM on April 9, 2019

If this is a partner, then the two of you need couples' counseling because your level of disdain for them is worrying, even though I agree with others, he sounds like a chore and not someone I'd want to be around much.

Because part of the issue is that with an ever-running stream of complaints and maladies and ailments, things never get to be about YOU, which means you don't get to say "Hey family member, I totally feel for this long chronic issue you've been having, but we've got to get a better dynamic going about how we talk about it. You need to vent. I try to fix you. I feel ignored because you don't take any of my advice and continue to re-injure yourself and then I am expected to pick up all this slack. It's unsustainable and we need to talk about it. Because I am exhausted being your caregiver and I've also got other stuff going on in my life"

If this is a less close family member, or one you don't live with, have boundaries. And pay attention to what crazycanuck says about how other family members may deal with those boundaries.

Story time: I had a mom who was already a bit of a narcissist. And then she got cancer. And she had never been super nice to me to begin with and now, basically for the last ten years of her life, every conversation about anything always turned into Cancer News and why it was harder for her than whatever I was dealing with (including the death of my father and some injuries/stuff of my own). And that was tough. And I had to go a little "grey rock" with her because I could not always do more than say "Wow that sounds tough" and because we were family members, she felt she deserved my attention, care, time, efforts and etc. And, as I said before, she wasn't that nice. We had a pretty arms-length relationship. I would email her every day, but rarely visited and refused to talk with her on the phone. My sister had the same mom but a different relationship with her. They spoke every weekend, my sister was the "listen to her litany of complaints" person, she was much closer. My mom died a few years ago and I'm not really sure I would have done anything differently. But everyone's got to make a choice and there's no "right" one.

But one thing I did a lot of was found other people who could be supportive of me and my issues when I needed it, preferably people I had somewhat reciprocal relationships with. Because it's bad for BOTH people when one person is always-sick and one is always-caregiving/helping/whatever. And you need some support too, but you're not going to get it from this family member. Therapy helped me a lot. There was nothing like hearing my therapist go "Your mom said THAT? Wow....." that made me feel a lot better about the choices I'd made. I hope you can get to a place like that yourself.
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 PM on April 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I started to have chronic pain and lifelong injuries in my twenties. Something that helped me a lot was talking with active older people and coming to terms that actually, the way your joints were at 9 years old should not be your expectation.

This is not a thing someone without chronic aches and pains could have taught me. My partner is older than me and still has painless joints. But my aunt has a daily stretching routine to keep away from pain, my dad puts ice on all his joints after every work out... Those were good things to start noticing. Also, the idea that sometimes you can ache and still continue to do what you want to do - yeah, my knees ache but they'll feel better after I walk a while. That's all just experience, but it helps to be looking for it.
posted by Lady Li at 11:00 PM on April 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Taking up a regular exercise routine, stretching every day, these are major endeavors and changes to make and they often take a long time to pay off (if at all).

And it's so damn depressing to be injured in a way that isn't healing and that impacts what you can do. When you don't get immediate results it is hard not to see that as a reflection on whether you will ever be healed (maybe this *is* just my knee now...). You might see if there's something you can do that would help them get out and find a bit of agency in their life. Because it sounds like they're really dwelling on their ailments and maybe you want to ask "tell me about a good thing that happened today?" instead of "tell me the update to your litany of woes". It would be good for them, too, to start looking at it that way from time to time. All that time googling what you might be dying from really takes away from living your best life.
posted by Lady Li at 11:09 PM on April 9, 2019

Wow, ok. You need to read Queen of Bythnia’s answer - like ten times, because every statement is true and meaningful- and maybe read a little beyond that about tendon injuries and treatment. Tendons don’t heal. (Unlike bones. I’d rather have a bone break any day of the week.) A tear is a tear. You can build muscle around a joint with weakened tendons but there’s no fixing it save surgery, which often has shit outcomes, which is why (in practice) they tend to save it for severe tears (even though for some things, researchers recommend early surgery). Researchers are working on stem cell and other regenerative therapies but these are a LONG way from being reliable or proven and they’re not coming to market any time soon (and they’re going to be expensive when they do).

And, a partial tear can actually cause a lot of pain all on its own.

And, once one of your joints or tendons is screwed, you move differently (alter your biomechanics, even slightly) - and this can cause a cascade effect, whereby other joints along the line begin to move in maladaptive ways, increasing risk of injury to them. (So if your foot goes, your knee and hip could easily follow.) Clumsiness isn’t even required - but if it’s present, I mean... dyspraxia exists, one doesn’t just decide to not be dyspraxic. And, dealing with multiple tendon or joint injuries is like death by a thousand cuts. Each injury and dysfunction causes pain on its own, obviously that’s compounded with interest (depression from all that dysfunction and immobility and isolation).

And, you’re supposed to go to doctors, and deal with unreliable tests (ultrasounds and MRIs, which as QOB said, can be wrong). And there’s really not much help for all that. You feel like you’ve got a junky body because it’s proving itself to be junky and unfixable. And there’s pain whenever you move... so it’s totally understandable if a person finds this consuming, since it’s hard to ignore unfixable pain in lots of places and it’s hard to do a lot else when you have unfixable pain in lots of places.

My general point is if you’re going to be around this person with regularity and nominally care about him, you should educate yourself on what he’s talking about before judging him. (See if you have any interest in that.)

That might help you empathize or at least sympathize. Which would get you to a place where you could validate him, tell him “that sucks”, for which he’ll be grateful and after which he’ll probably shut up. Being told “you’re fine or should be” when you’re not and can’t be is invalidating, and most people will kick at that, especially if their lives are limited and defined by that experience.

You might wish him to be better (fitter, leaner), but it’s a complex situation that’s beyond your influence. Accept that. (I guess the most you could do, if you wanted to, offer to help him find a physiotherapist experienced in *chronic* pain. That person is placed to be an empathetic motivator.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:30 PM on April 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

Exasperation with having to witness all this is one thing. It’s fine to say “hey, I’m sorry you’re going through this, but the truth is it’s hard for me to hear so much about it. I can listen for a while, but only a while. I think better people to talk to right now would be at” (an online resource like r/chronicpain - which is true, he’ll be understood by people there in a way he can’t really be by someone not experiencing what he’s dealing with. Like it will legit help. They’ll commiserate and those further down the line+ will probably offer suggestions around activity etc based in experience.)

The *contempt* people have picked up on is something else. That’s coming from your judgments that 1) his pain isn’t authentic and 2) he’s morally culpable for his pain (ie you feel his injuries are preventable, he’s not helping himself, etc). This is the part where educating yourself on tendon injuries [btw some people are more prone to them than others for actual biological reasons] and the psychology of chronic pain will help both of you. Him because he’ll feel more understood (and less alone, which will, again, at least temporarily lessen his urge to talk about it), you because you’ll feel less irritated (because you’ll understand why he’s doing what he’s doing).

+ There’s a curve when it comes to dealing with chronic pain. First you scramble to fix it. You go to doctors, you research, you do what you can. A person can spend a WHILE here. In this person’s case, they are probably not stuck only on single injuries - which in the MSK arena can be tricky to pin down even with imaging - but are also trying to figure out why they get so many. [like I said, it might not just be “inattention” and poor judgment. Could be intrinsic factors like genetically crappy tissue or bad biomechanics or hypermobility or something else.] Then there’s depression and anger. Obviously it’s not linear like that, people bounce around. In depression, where this person appears to be now, expect little in the way of optimism, obviously.

If there’s a diagnosis, and some kind of plan for pain management or treatment (ideally both), eventually, people can get to acceptance and move on to figuring out how to live and work around it, if it’s not going to improve. At some point, he’ll get there, he will. (And maybe people on relevant subs who are further along can be of help to him now.)

So take heart, this is probably part of a phase that will - eventually - end.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:58 AM on April 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

Does this person live with you? I'm trying to figure out why it's your job to convince them their medical situation isn't that bad, to suggest ways to improve their life, or to do anything beyond saying, "Sorry to hear you're not feeling well" and then going home to live your own life in your own way. If it's so stressful to spend time with them, why do you choose to spend time with them? This internet stranger gives you permission just stop trying to fix them, even if they should one day ask you to.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:08 AM on April 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Wanted to come back here just to say... it can be hard to grapple with the uncertainty that maybe your best efforts will only get you 80% back to where you were before. Mortality comes in to it.

And I think with mortality in general, sometimes it's better to just look away. Not to fight it (denial) or obsess about it (despair) but to acknowledge it as the human condition and try to find other things to notice and enjoy about your life.

So that's another idea to focus on when you're worn down by their complaints and possible catastrophizing - not arguing whether these maladies are severe or not, but whether your loved one is living a full life. Try redirecting your conversations to other things in their life. It may help them redirect their attention too.
posted by Lady Li at 5:26 PM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would like to point out regarding your follow-up that things like frequent colds and being susceptible to injuries from "normal" activity can be related to chronic illness, many of which are notoriously difficult to diagnose. That said, whatever's going on with him certainly sounds like chronic pain and depression at the very least. And sure, his doctor(s) will have the best information but even "hypochondriacs" are aware of what they're experiencing in their own bodies.

Frankly, I think that gently steering him in another direction for support would be good for both of you - I ended a 20-year friendship after the other person dismissed one too many of my concerns about my health because I was "borrowing trouble" (reader, I did need the surgery). (And that was a decade before I was diagnosed with the chronic illness that explained the "gets colds all the time" part of my life.)
posted by camyram at 6:31 AM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older Take me back to 2011   |   Looking for info about this world war two photo Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.