It’s World Mental Health Day! Well, it won’t be when you read this. But it is as I write this. I posted some confessions on Instagram about my struggles with mental health, and I got a bunch of incredibly kind messages from friends saying they support me, that I look “dashing,” and that they appreciate my posts. Despite doing all the things I listed in the video, nothing made me feel better than reading those messages. I have little tears, happy tears.
We talk a lot about the negative effects of words — ableist language, gaslighting, negative reinforcement, etc. — but not enough about the beautiful powers that words are capable of.
I’m intentional in affirming people who have been cut by words. For example, I push back at toxic masculinity by telling my bros that I love them and that it’s OK to cry. In turn, I tell women wounded by that toxicity that they’re deserving of the utmost respect and that the words carelessly tossed at them aren’t reflective of the truth.
And yeah, sometimes I ask my closest friends to affirm me when I’m feeling down on myself. Society sees that as a vain request, but honestly I don’t give a rooty-toot about coming off as vain if I know simple words can mend my gaping wounds. I see it as asking for expressed love from people who love me. (If you’re into love languages, you can probably guess mine is words of affirmation.)
I watched a Facebook video that showed kids bullying one plant and being kind to another. The bullied plant wilted while the loved plant blossomed beautifully. (Yes, plants were harmed in the making of this video.) I did a similar project in elementary school, but we used hard rock music in place of bullying and classical music in place of kindness. Same results. Hard rock is the devil, kids!
But seriously, it’s evident that harshness has some mysterious effect on living molecules. We know that stress erodes our bodies and that a joyful spirit is associated with longevity. With terminal illness, stress is unavoidable. But what if we could treat at least one stress source? The stress of harmful words?
Caregivers, I want to ask you big questions: Are your words to the one you care for especially loving? Or are they embedded with frustration? Does your loved one’s chronic illness put you in a 24/7 junk mood? Well, imagine how they feel. They don’t need more harshness delivered on wings of irritable words.
When I find myself in horrible times, I often try to lighten the air with my usual lame jokes, but others darken the air by saying things like, “This is no laughing matter,” or, “If you’d taken care of yourself, we wouldn’t be in this situation.” Those responses wound me because I cope best when I can assure others that I’m fine. To me, those responses sounded more like, “You need to be angry and sad because I’m angry and sad.”
I’ve said it in past columns: Our lives are tough enough without added stressors.
Of course, I don’t blame irritated caregivers. Chronic illness is brutally frustrating. (Surprise!) Every person has the right to express how helpless they feel. But I ask you to take deep breaths before throwing your suffering onto another sufferer.
I guarantee, my friends, that your loved one is more likely to thrive when hugged with kind words than slammed by angry words. With that flourishing comes stronger health, a mightier immune system, a fortified mentality. These things are essential in the chronic illness realm. Maybe I am requesting that you give your loved one with chronic illness “special treatment.” Gasp. Love treatment.
They need a loving friend, not a harsh critic.
Let’s practice some beautifying words:
- You were so courageous in that appointment.
- Hey, it’s not your fault, sweetie.
- It’s OK to cry. I’m here with you.
- I don’t know how you’re joking at this time, but whatever helps!
- You’re stronger than anyone I know, even when you hurt.
- Sucky appointment, huh? Guess it’s time for a special dinner.
- You’ve come so far this year. I’m prouder than I can adequately express.
- Let’s scream together. Ready?
- I love you. You know that, right?
Let’s put practice into action. Go find your loved one or call them.
No, really, like right now.
(And if you’re reading this as a person with CF, know that your loving words help your caregiver, too! It goes both ways.)
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.