5 Questions to Ask the Chronically Ill Person in Your Life (And 5 Questions To Avoid)

If you know someone with a chronic illness like axial spondyloarthritis, you may have questions. This is a good thing — it likely means you want to better understand and support this person. However, health can be a sensitive topic, so it’s important to choose your questions carefully. Before asking questions, there are a few things to consider.

The best questions vary person to person

Once you have established that it is appropriate to ask questions, select questions that are respectful and intended only to help you learn and understand. The best questions will vary from person to person, depending on their own place in their chronic illness journey and your relationship to them.

If you aren’t sure where to start, here are five great questions to ask the chronically ill person in your life:

  1. Is it okay if I ask you about your illness?
  2. What is it like living with your illness?
  3. What would be helpful for me to know and learn about your illness?
  4. What do most people not know or get wrong about your illness?
  5. How can I support you?

These are starting points

These questions are great starting points; they are mostly open-ended so they allow the person to open up as much or as little as they want to. Their responses may even snowball to cover additional topics. As you listen to their responses, it’s important to read verbal and visual cues to decide whether or not this person is comfortable. If they are open and comfortable, you may want to ask follow-up questions. If they are giving short, one-word answers or seem uncomfortable, it’s time to change the topic.

Some questions come off as insensitive

There are also some questions that can come off as insensitive to a chronically ill person, even though they may seem like useful questions to you. Here are five questions to avoid:

  1. Have you tried yoga/diet/X cure for your illness? (We’ve tried it all, thanks)
  2. Can you still walk/have kids/X? (None of your business)
  3. Are you really that sick/in that much pain? (Yes)
  4. So they can’t cure it? (Google “chronic”)
  5. Can it kill you? (I will try to let you know beforehand if it does)

If you’re unsure about a certain question, think about why you’re asking it. If you’re asking only to satisfy your own curiosity, don’t bother. Take it upon yourself to Google anything you’re dying to know. But if you’re asking a question with the goal of supporting this person, go ahead.

Consider your relationship

Remember that appropriate questions differ for every chronically ill person. It heavily depends on your relationship with that person and their comfort level with you. Also, some people are just generally more open about discussing their illness than others. As mentioned, read their verbal and visual cues and adjust your question-asking accordingly. Also, remember that you’re not conducting an interview — sprinkle your questions throughout everyday conversation rather than subjecting this person to a long interrogation.

You can get valuable insight

If you ask questions with good intentions and don’t push the person to answer anything they don’t want to, you will likely gain valuable insight into this person’s life. Using this information, you can support them and further educate yourself on their illness. Many chronically ill people will be grateful that you've taken the time to ask questions, rather than making assumptions or pretending their illness doesn’t exist. Living with chronic illness can be very lonely; it’s comforting when people in our lives take a few minutes to come inside our chronic illness world and learn.

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