Culture · Health · Social Justice

Please Stop Saying “I Hope You’re Well” to Your (Chronically Ill) Friends

Photo by Elisa Ventur via Unsplash.

“I hope you’re well.” 

It’s an innocuous enough phrase on the surface, one that folks often use in both professional and personal contexts as a catch-all. But is it as harmless as it seems? 

Earlier this year I suffered a terrible accident with my hand smashed in a door that badly injured my left wrist and forearm. During the long course of diagnosis which involved the electrified needles of muscle/nerve damage tests (positive for both) as well as the hell tube also known as an MRI in case of a hairline fracture (thankfully no broken bones), we ultimately discovered that I had carpal tunnel syndrome hiding underneath the intersected injury from the doorsmash.

I’m a writer by passion and trade, and watched helplessly as my meager freelancer savings went to orthopedist bills and physiotherapy. Three steroid injections and six months later, I’m still on limited computer time and Corticosteroid jabs will be my new normal until I’ll inevitably require surgery. The pain has been a nightmare, but the hell of not being able to write at my old pace has been just as heartbreaking. This is the first ever blog post I’ve fully written on my phone because it’s slightly easier on my body. (Yes, I’ve heard of voice-to-text. No, it doesn’t work for me.) 

I’m seeking to make peace with the fact that my hands will never be 100% okay again. Every second of this is a festival of suck. And as I’m struggling to heal, both body and depressed mind, I keep receiving the same message from friends:

 “I hope you’re well.” 

The only time I personally use this phrase is in professional emails, where it’s polite and we have no expectation to discuss personal matters. In my new chronic pain context and coming from a friend, I’ve quickly come to find this statement offensive, akin to the performative care of unsolicited advice. Like they don’t have time or desire for a proper check-in, but also don’t want to come across as an inattentive friend. Self-edification. Pretend care. Cold. It’s dismissive, shuts down open communication, and in certain contexts feels casually cruel to assume that anyone in this day and age, let alone me, is doing well. 

I’ve had a devastating medical diagnosis that affects both my livelihood and my passion in life. I’m making the best of things, but I’ll never be 100% well ever again. Why wouldn’t someone ask, “How are you?” if they really cared? Worse, people have unloaded all their shit on me and then ended their rant with the now-dreaded, “I hope you’re well.” My irritation has grown exponentially. 

To mediate my annoyance, I consulted with my network. I learned that: 

  • Many, many people use this phrase because they feel asking “How are you?” might be too intrusive. They don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy.
  • Some use it because writing isn’t their strong suit and they just don’t know what else to say, but they genuinely do wish another well. 
  • Some feel this is an opening phrase that’s supposed to invite communication, not a period at the end of a sentence like I read it – end of transmission. 
  • Some folks haven’t thought about any subtext at all, it’s just something people say. 
  • Many folks with chronic illness categorically hate hearing it; it makes them feel alienated, unseen, and their considerable pain overlooked. 
  • Many highly sensitive individuals agree that it feels cold, bordering on rude, and does the opposite of invite connection.
  • And yeah, a few are actually saying it just to be polite and do not expect or want a response, but they are in the minority.

All of these are hugely different readings of the same four words.

While I now see there are not necessarily negative intentions with the phrase, the fact that there are so many ways to interpret “I hope you’re well” makes it a poor tool for communication regardless of the motivation. And for chronically ill people who will never fully be well, it’s upsetting as hell to be reminded of the reality of our conditions in this way. It hurts. Kind of a lot. In a different way than how we are already physically hurting. 

Please stop saying “I hope you’re well” to friends, especially those with chronic conditions. If you’re not in a position to ask, “How are you?” try simply sending your love, hugs, and/or strength. There’s no misunderstanding any of that. There are no alternate readings. 

Going further, because this phrase doesn’t have a clear meaning and we live in an era of too much misinformation and miscommunication, it would be helpful to avoid this phrase among friends in general, saving it for professional contexts only. 

Nobody will ever have a problem with receiving good energy. In these fraught times of social media complications, sending and receiving good vibes might be one of the only things on which we can all actually agree. And if this helps the chronic condition community feel acknowledged and included, even better. 

*First published at Medium. *