This week I continue the theme of recovery in the context of illness focusing on how to respond to people when they ask questions or make comments. In this recovery series, I initially focused on the assumptions which lace the recovery process due to society’s interpretation of recovery. I then wrote about the different types of ‘recovery’ people experience depending on the illness they have/had. And how this may require redefining what we mean by well and recovering wellness in various facets of our lives within the context of illness. 

Maybe you got seriously ill a few months, a year, or sometime ago. You still live with its impact, whether it is visible or invisible. And through it all, you’ve had well-meaning people (or not) ask questions, give (unsolicited) advice, and make comments.

  • “What happened to you?”
  • “Oh, but you’ve recovered?”
  • Some variant of you looking well so your recovery must be good. (But on the inside you are feeling the opposite.)
  • And when you say your recovery is taking its time or there will be no recovery, you might hear:
    • “Why? Maybe you need to do XYZ, do more of ABC, stop doing DEF, be more positive…”
    • “You’re not any better yet? But you look well. You must not be working hard enough at your recovery…”
    • “Oh, I use insert-your-solution-of-the-month, it really works. Highly recommend it!”
  • “You shouldn’t be using that disabled parking bay/loo” or “You don’t look sick/disabled.”
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Responding to the question: Have you recovered yet? B Babcock 2016

You feel yourself hesitating and wondering how to respond. Do you tell the truth, do you want to, will they get it? To answer their question truthfully, your response may take time, not be a straightforward yes or no, and so may invite more questions. You may not have the energy to educate someone by explaining, the energy to tell a stranger what happened to you, the energy debating with yourself how much to share, the energy to convince someone you know well that no, a recovery is not possible (despite how well you may look at the moment). And it’s ok to feel that way.

So how do you respond in these moments, if at all? Read on to find out.

When responding, consider what you say to whom

Regarding what you say, factors such as how well you know the person or not, the setting, and will you have ongoing contact with the person can all come into play.

  How well you know the person Setting Ongoing contact with this person?
1 Random person you do not know On the street, in a restaurant or shop No
2 Semi-stranger, i.e. friend of a friend or work colleague Social and work Possibly not but who knows
3 People you know but are not close to like acquaintances and colleagues Social and work Yes
4 People you know well like family, relatives, close friends, some colleagues Assume ongoing contact Yes

The first thing to keep in mind is it is YOUR choice as to how much you say or not. It is YOUR body. YOU are dealing with the long-term condition or serious illness/injury. You do not have to disclose anything you do not want to.

This especially applies to strangers’ comments and questions. If they make a nasty comment that you look too well to use the disabled loo or parking bay for example, it can be hard to hear when you know how much that loo/parking bay is necessary to you. What they say speaks volumes about them. It is their ‘stuff’ as I like to say. You’ve got enough going on, you don’t need to take on their stuff too. Leave their stuff with them. If you choose to respond, some common ones I’ve heard clients use are:

  • Not all disabilities are visible. – It’s a fact and can be delivered matter-of-factly.
  • You don’t look ignorant. – This is a come-back along the lines of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. Your choice whether or not you use it.
  • I hope what happened to me never happens to you. – This can be a come-back or a sincerely felt wish on your part depending on how you respond. Again, your choice.

Then move on.

If a stranger asks a genuine question, nothing nasty, like ‘What happened to you?’ or ‘Why do you use the stick?’ or ‘But you have recovered?’, again it is your choice what you say and how much. If you don’t feel like saying talking about the actual situation because it may  take too long to explain or possibly invite more questions, you can respond, ‘Nothing really, the situation is manageable, thanks’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about it, but thanks for your concern’. Smile and nod your head once. Look away. Touch your watch. Subtle signs indicating conversation has ended. Move on.

Or you may choose to give a brief response, ‘I had XYZ’ or ‘I use a stick to help with my balance’ or ‘Recovery is a long road with this condition/injury’. If they ask more questions and you are ok with responding, go for it. If you don’t want to respond further, you can say, ‘You know, I’ve got to get going. Good to chat, thanks.’ or ‘There’s really not much more to say. It’s one of those things.’ Smile. Move on.

With people you have ongoing contact with like family, relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, some more explanation and education may be needed. How much will depend on their own experiences and assumptions regarding health, illness and recovery and how they feel impacted by what has happened to you.

Some people just take things on board, support you and get on with it. Others do not because their definition of recovery may align with society’s go-to definition that you go back to the way you were before the illness/injury. Or they may also be missing what you used to be able to do and what you were able to do together and are going through their own process of coming to terms with what has happened. In these cases, explaining many times may be needed.

If they ask, ‘Have you recovered (yet)?’, some simple go to responses can be:

  • No, I won’t recover in the sense I will be like I was. I’m living with a changed body now.
  • No, it’s not like recovery from a cold or the flu. I won’t go back to the way I was.
  • No, I won’t recover to how I was before. That’s not possible with this condition/illness/injury because…

Providing educational material from a third source to families and work colleagues can really help to educate them, thereby helping them readjust their expectations of you, your recovery and current abilities. It also highlights that there is a different definition of ‘recovery’ for situations like yours, which can help to evolve the current societal definition of recovery.

Managing yourself when responding is key

We touched on this above, particularly when dealing with strangers. When people say, ‘Oh, but you have recovered, haven’t you? You are looking so well!’ in a happy, maybe expectant voice, it can feel like an in-your-face reminder that no, you haven’t and you won’t. That kind of reminder can be draining when given in a casual way and/or you hear it a lot.

When people say what they do, they are working to their definition of recovery. It is what they know. It’s not about you. I also think at times, people genuinely want the best for you. They want you to feel better, even when they mistakenly assume you are better because you look better. Or in their minds they may not even be thinking of your recovery when they say that you look well. They might mean it as just that.

But I know it can hurt and feel draining. And if you feel that, spend some time with it. But you don’t need to dress yourself in it. It’s definitely not an outfit to wear and never take off. There is something here about owning your power over how you want to feel on a longer term basis. And the best way to get to that point is to feel your way through the hurt or draining feeling out to the other side so it is then behind you.

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Moving beyond feelings of hurt and feeling drained. B Babcock 2016

What’s it like for you?

How do you deal with people asking if you have recovered? What has worked for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts so share below by leaving a comment.

If this blog has sparked something inside you and you would like to explore how want to respond to people about your recovery, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Although these blogs are written in the context of living with serious illness or a chronic condition, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. So if you think a friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

I have been researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of long-term conditions and serious illness/injury. If you or a loved one experienced the onset of a long-term condition or serious illness/injury in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering with what acceptance means for you, I would love to speak with you. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016

Recovery definition

  1. a) To have (the use, possession, or control of something) restored
  2. b) To regain the use of (a faculty) or be restored to (a normal or usual condition)
  3. c) To regain one’s health, strength, composure, balance, etc., after illness, trouble, disturbance, or the like
  4. d) If you recover, you become well again after an illness or injury.

Recovery definition obtained from


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