Dr. Steiner's Tools for Change

Articles & Publications

  1. Toolkit for Families Living with Chronic Medical Illness
  2. Healing Power of Groups
  3. ❧ Why Nickname your Illness?
  4. Coping with Trauma

Why Nickname your Illness?

Learning to live with chronic illness or limitations is not easy. (Some would even say it isn't for wimps!) Having chronic pain or illness is not something we ask to have happen in our lives. Yet, somehow we need to avoid either of these extremes: seeing ourselves as the illness OR ignoring it completely. This is a challenging process that usually takes time and changes in lifestyle. One way to make room for your illness without letting it take over, is to give it a nickname. Giving your limitations a nickname can also be a helpful way to talk with others about having a chronic illness.

For example, Arthur, of Arthur-itis, is my Uninvited Life Partner. If I tell friends that Arthur has moved into my knee today, we can figure out how we can spend time together without making Arthur grumpier. On good days I can happily report that Arthur won't object to going for a walk. I use a person's name for my illness. Some people are more comfortable choosing a name that describes the illness or limitation, rather than using a person's name.

What nickname do you have for your uninvited life companion? Some people find it hard to get help because their illness is invisible or "hidden." Have you found a way to talk about your illness to the important people in your life? Consider writing down a list of possible nicknames, maybe discuss this idea with a trusted friend. Once you find a nickname that seems right, test it out with a few people you are comfortable with. You'll be surprised at the conversations it leads to!


When thinking about nicknaming your illness keep these three things in mind:

  • If the name you choose is humorous, some people may think you don't want them to take the illness or you seriously.
  • If you choose a name that makes the illness The Enemy, or sounds too negative it may be harder to find a way to coexist peacefully with it.
  • Think about whether you are comfortable with other people talking with you about, or asking you about, your nicknamed illness. Decide whether you want to be the only one that uses the nickname. There is no "correct" answer to this question. Yet, if you want to be the only one that uses it, let people know.

Want to share your nickname and enter my Contest? Go to my Contest Page for more infomation.

This article is based on sections of her forthcoming self-help book.
Please do not use this material without the author's written consent.

@Copyright Ann Steiner, Ph.D. 2009 *All Rights Reserved*

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© Ann Steiner, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Reproduction without the author's written consent is prohibited.

Last Updated: April 6, 2017