“Get Well Soon” – Guest Blog by Louise Shepherd | 22 November 2019

November 22, 2019

Guest Blog by Louise Shepherd.

I was recently sorting through some of my belongs and came across my “Keepsake box.” As I dug my way through it, I found a small pile of cards and letters.

Some were for passing exams or my driving test but a number of them were from when I began to get really sick and was eventually diagnosed with Anaemia and Hypothyroidism back in 2006/2007, and a few others were from when I was later diagnosed with Moderate/Severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in 2013.

Almost all of them contained those three words that no-one with any chronic illness wants to hear or read…

“Get Well Soon.”

Such small but powerful words – for right and wrong reasons. The sentiment behind them is fine when you have a cold or even broken a bone; colds clear up and bones heal. But when there’s no chance of becoming 100% better, hearing or reading them can really drag you down to the dark places of your mind.

The realisation of knowing I’m not going to get better is one I have to face and am constantly trying to accept, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read through cards and letters from people hoping I’ll soon be well and able to enjoy my old life again.

In all honesty, to be sent cards or letters containing the words “Get Well Soon” when you’re chronically ill, is kind of insulting as well as really upsetting. I know that the idea behind the message is sincere and comes from a good place.

However, it really highlights that people find it hard to wrap their head around a never-ending illness and the “Get Well Soon” message has become the standard for when someone you know is unwell. It’s only thought unacceptable when the person you know has a terminal illness, like late stage Cancer.

For all the relief I felt when I was finally diagnosed with M.E after years of not knowing what was wrong, I then had to accept there is no cure, no effective treatment plan, and that I’m just going to have to just live with it and watch helpless while my life unravelled as my illness began to stop me from actually living the life I want.

This is an illness that I later found out, could actually take my life in its severest form and has a recovery rate of 5%. That was a devastating discovery and to then receive cards hoping I would “Get Well Soon” just added to the devastation and heartbreak.

In this way the “Get Well Soon” message can be quite harmful to mental health. It’s like a chip in the windscreen of a car, if left unfixed, it can spread across the whole screen making the car unsafe to drive.

In the same way, hearing/reading the message “Get Well Soon” can make me slip back into negative thinking and can spread to feelings of hopelessness and wanting to give up. Turning those thoughts and feelings around can be difficult, but for me it’s necessary to fix the chip before it breaks the windscreen.

Refocusing on what I’m able to do on better days and not dwelling on never getting well is one of the fixes I often use to help me keep going and remain hopeful. I also find that a balance of hope and facing the reality of my situation, helps keep me positive and is the most beneficial way of thinking.

For me, “Get Well Soon” is really a healthy person’s phrase because when you look at the M.E community, that phrase is never said. We all understand the impact it can have and have found better phrases to show our support for one another. A few of the phrases I’ve noticed that are often used are along the lines of:

  • “I hope things ease for you soon”
  • “I hope you feel more your normal soon”
  • “I hope the PEM eases quickly”

These all show that the saying “you don’t get it, until you get” is really true as these phrases demonstrate an understanding of life with M.E or chronic illness in general and carry the sentiment of hoping for better days.

While I’ve never broached the subject with someone who sent me one of those cards, in recent times, the sentiment behind any cards or letters I receive is more along the lines of “thinking of you,” which is far more comforting and I’m very thankful for that.

But as for the “Get Well Soon” cards and letters that inspired me to write this piece, they’re still in the “Keepsake box” until I decide whether or not I want to keep them.

On one hand they are a reminder that people cared enough to send them, but on the other, the reality that getting better soon never happened is difficult to cope with. So, for now they’ll stay in there until I’ve made up my mind.

What effect does “Get Well Soon” have on you? Have you ever tried to explain to someone the impact of that phrase? What other phrases have you suggested or used yourself?

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