Hank Green: “Your illness is not your fault” despite what society may say

Close up of Hank Green wearing black rimmed glasses
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YouTuber Hank Green opened up to his followers recently to explain how illness, especially chronic illness, is not the fault of the individual who has it. Green is famously known on YouTube for the channel he shares with his brother, John Green. Earlier in the year, we at Rooted In Rights recognized the brothers’ work to raise awareness of psychological disorders.

In the video below, Hank Green compares his experiences having a cold with his experiences having ulcerative colitis, a chronic auto immune disease. In the week before Green created this video, he had a cold and noticed how people responded differently to a mild illness which, as he points out, he can cure, and his ulcerative colitis, which he cannot. When Green had a cold, he received offers of support and encouragement to rest and feel better. In comparison, during his time with ulcerative colitis he has received numerous suggestions for a solution. “A lot of people seem to have a cure [for ulcerative colitis] in their back pocket: If only I’d go gluten free, or stop eating grains, or go paleo, or vegan, or stop eating short chain carbohydrates, or fast for three days and then eat an apple…” Green explains. “And over the years I tried a lot of those things and none of them worked. What worked was taking the medicine that my doctor gave to me.”

When someone reacts to the news that another person has a chronic illness by offering a potential cure or suggestion, this can make the person feel as if their illness is their fault – because they haven’t explored all possible solutions, or are not trying hard enough to ‘fix’ themselves. This particular response to illness is something that many people with disabilities have experienced, such as when people with depression are told that all they need to do to feel better is smile more, go outside, or do yoga.

“After years of dealing with my chronic illness that I cannot cure and having people tell me ways that I should be able to cure it, what I’m hearing is not, ‘Take it easy. We support you.’ Instead, I’m hearing, ‘I have the secret to your wellness and if only you had the courage and fortitude to implement it, you would no longer be sick.’”

It is time to stop telling people with chronic, mental, or other illnesses that their illness is their fault, and instead start working on how to best support one another.

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