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Does it Hurt? And Other Questions that are Really Hard to Answer 

I recently was talking to a good friend of mine who lives with ulcerative colitis, and the conversation turned toward how hard answers can be to seemingly innocuous and easy questions that one gets regularly asked. Questions like, “How are you?” can be so loaded when the answer isn’t “fine.” Questions like, “Are you hurting?” can make me stop in my tracks as I begin counting the places that are talking to me all the while debating how much to reveal because my answer could change the direction of the day if I tell the truth. Questions like, “Do you want to go out to dinner tonight?” should be a “Heck, yeah!” instead of an internal debate about how much my stomach hurts and will the restaurant choice make it worse.

The everchanging nature of chronic conditions

The reality when you live with a chronic, painful disease is that life is more complicated than it otherwise would be. The complications come from the ever-changing nature of chronic conditions and the need to fit that into a life that has positive meaning. So much of my life is a struggle to balance the caretaking responsibilities that my body requires, with the strong desire to live the best life I can. Some days, caretaking is all I do, and on days that I don’t have to think too much about my painful body I rejoice in the ability to live unfettered.

This is a hard thing to convey during casual conversation; considering the definition of “casual conversation,” it really shouldn’t even be a part of one. The problem is, when you are trying to be honest with yourself and the people around you, casual questions can be tricky to answer.  Over the decades I’ve lived with JRA, the way I talk about it has changed dramatically. I think because I got this disease before I could speak in full sentences, my instinct has always been to keep most of the issues that challenge me to myself.

But as time went on I realized that wasn’t the best way to go through life. Not only was I making my life difficult by trying to handle everything myself, but I was losing out on the opportunity to teach people about chronic pain and disease.  Just because you live with an illness doesn’t mean you have to be an ambassador for it, and there are many days that I don’t feel like talking about the reality of my life. That being said, what I’ve discovered is that when it comes to some of the easy/hard questions, sometimes you can keep it simple and real. “How are you?” can be answered by saying, “I’m much better today than yesterday and really grateful.” Or, “Having a harder pain day today but looking forward to that changing.” “Do you want to go out to dinner tonight? I really do but since I have a stomach ache, I’ll need to eat at a place that offers …., is that okay with you?”  “Are you hurting? Yes, today the pain is worst in my elbows but I’m wearing an elbow brace so that should help.”

By answering simply but also with a dose of my reality thrown in, I find that I’m forming deeper connections with people. Sometimes when I answer in this way it does lead to more questions, at other times we just move on. But always I find that I feel better because I’m not hiding, I’m often raising awareness, and I’m connecting more deeply to the people around me.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Dave
    1 year ago

    The answer I give to most questions depends on who is asking the question. I am all for “being an ambassador” and spreading awareness but unless I know that the person asking the question is truly interested in my health and well being I won’t put myself in the position of being looked at negatively. Let’s face it, a high percentage of people today will look at a healthy-looking person with an invisible illness and will assume that we are looking for attention, we are a “baby” or a hypochondriac. My attitude since day one regarding my RA has been that I will fight this beast till the day I die and that it WILL NOT BEAT me. I have some loving, caring people around me who understand what I deal with on a daily basis and I know that is invaluable but I know and realize that most people simply don’t understand and probably aren’t ever going to no matter how I answer their questions!

  • kat-elton author
    1 year ago

    Hi Dave, You are definitely being realistic and wise with how you are approaching this. You are right, it is getting increasingly hard to help people to understand the reality of chronic illness- in my opinion the opioid debate isn’t helping. I think the key to stay emotionally healthy with all of this is what you have, a few loving, caring people. I LOVE your attitude, it’s one I share too. 🙂

  • Alesandra Bevilacqua moderator
    1 year ago

    Hey Dave! Thanks for sharing with us. You have a great attitude when it comes to your journey battling RA! I’m glad to hear you have such an awesome support system around you – as you said, something like that is invaluable. Thanks for being here with us! We’re glad you’re part of the community. – Alesandra ( Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    1 year ago

    Are you OK? Three simple words, they seem simple, but the answers are often difficult. I so dislike this question. It matters not how I answer, if I say I am doing well, I get the health football thrown to me, how did you get better, when will you start to work again, or you must be so relieved.

    If I say not the best, I get peppered with questions. When will you get better, do you miss working, or how far washed up are you.

    I have come to say ask Sheryl, her questions I can deal with. of course lately she tells them to ask me. Yeah so much for questions like these

  • kat-elton author
    1 year ago

    Hi Rick, one thing I’ve learned, since I have a brother with an autoimmune disease as well, being on the other side is tough. Knowing what to say, without sounding preachy or clueless, is hard even for me. That being said, it does seem to be the case that some people don’t make much effort to be empathic. I think you are on to something- if it makes you uncomfortable, pass the question on!

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