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12 Ways you can support a friend who’s struggling with chronic illness

November 3rd, 2020

Imagine the last time you felt sick. How bad was it? Would you have done anything to stop the symptoms? Now imagine with me, that you feel that way all of the time. Actually, you’ve felt that way for 20 years, because you have a chronic illness. For those of you that don’t have one, that’s kind of what it’s like. Although not all chronic illnesses follow that description.

These illnesses are a daily struggle that have no end in sight. Unless there is a miracle or a new medication that comes out, it will be a part of your life forever.

It can make you feel like you want to just give up and stop doing life on an everyday basis. Sometimes you might feel like it would just be best if you could skip days, and get a bit of relief. Isolation is common, and feeling like no one cares is also a regular occurrence. It can feel like you aren’t living up to expectations either, which really hurts.

People around you are often the only things that keep you going. You need their care and support to give you that strength. We want you to know you aren’t alone, and if you don’t have a chronic illness, we want you to help your friends!

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Pexels - Helena Lopes Source: Pexels - Helena Lopes

A blog called The Mighty had people with chronic illnesses respond with what they need from their friends, and these were the answers:

1. Believe us

People never want to be judged, even if you think the judgment is fair or accurate. Rather than relying on your own senses of what your friends are feeling, rely on the one that matters most, your hearing. People aren’t always looking for you to come up with an answer to their problems, they just want a friend who hears them out and loves them through it.

“Anyone who doesn’t deal with a chronic illness should not take what is seen by their own eyes as truth. Instead of judging with their eyes, they should listen to what is said by those who are experiencing the illness. Empathy and mindfulness are key.” — Kate L.

2. Bring the party to us

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Pexels - Marcin Dampc Source: Pexels - Marcin Dampc

Don’t let them sink into their own feelings of worthlessness. That doesn’t mean telling them their feelings are wrong, but it does mean showing them. If a friend is constantly trying to remove themselves from the fun, try bringing the fun to them so they know how much their presence means in your own life.

“One of the most amazing things friends have done for me when I was struggling was to ‘bring the outing to me’… It made me feel so loved and included to have them accommodate me and want to spend time [with me]. I’ve been extremely lucky to find caring friends.” – Chris R.

“I need them to know that I am still their friend even if it feels like I’ve dropped off the face of the earth.” — Pamela J.

“Play dates. My friends would invite me over, sit me down, hand me a coffee and run around after all the kids. They made a huge difference in the worst stage of my life.” – Karen J.

“For them to show up. Send me a message first. Make time for a phone call. Respond when I am really struggling.” — Angel S.

3. Find a way to help

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Pexels - Pixabay Source: Pexels - Pixabay

Roll up your sleeves and do something helpful for them. The struggle doesn’t have to be theirs alone, and the best way to convince them of that is by showing them.

“If you know I am struggling and you want to help, drop off a meal. Ask if I need anything from the store or whatever chore you think might be helpful to the person in your life. Also, invite me and please don’t ever stop inviting me. It means so much to be thought of.” – Karin P.

“Help with errands and little everyday tasks. Can’t show up? A text or a short phone call just to check. A thought, a word, everything helps. Everything.” – Francesca S.

4. Understanding

This ties back into the first approach- listening. Hear your friend out so you can know how they actually feel, rather than telling them how they should feel. Don’t take their absence or their lack of involvement personally, just know that they are doing what they need to take care of themselves and check in every now and again to make sure that’s the case.

“Understand why I go into hermit mode when I’m going through my worst, and not take it personally. It’s literally the only way for me to be able to cope and deal with what I’m going through during that time.” – Jessica H.

“Someone to listen and try their best to understand. Give advice when I ask for it. Someone to relate or come over or laugh about it. Someone to share things with.” — Danielle V.

5. Learn, know, and plan for my disability

“It’s nice to have friends know just what my basic needs are so I don’t have to always apologize for changing the plans or needing something different.” – Cobi H.

6. Checking in often makes all the difference

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Pexels - Andrea Piacquadio Source: Pexels - Andrea Piacquadio

Just checking in on a friend can do wonders to boost their spirit. Knowing that they have someone who cares about them enough to reach out first can make all the difference.

“Just simply to check in with me. Ask if I need anything. Just being asked always makes me feel so much less isolated.” – Gloria M.

“Just check in with me. In the beginning everyone did — then, when I had to cancel lots of plans, the messages and calls stopped. Besides my close family, nobody really bothers anymore.” – Maren F.

“I have two people who I use to work with who still check up on me. I just wish that people would remember that I didn’t leave on my own, I was pushed away because of my chronic illness and became the ‘leper.’” – Sheri H.

7. Let us change the subject

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Pexels - Miguel A. Padrinan Source: Pexels - Miguel A. Padrinan

Don’t linger or pull out a microscope to examine every aspect of what your friend is going through unless they ask for it. Instead, let them get what’s bothering off their chest, then let them choose where to take the conversation from there.

“I don’t mind sharing but I appreciate most when they demonstrate understanding, allow me to vent if need be, then move on to a different topic all together.” — Stephanie B.

8. Forget the pity.

Feeling sorry for someone isn’t helpful to either you or your friend. Making sure they know that you understand and still care for them, just as they are, will do far more to help them pull through whatever is eating at them.

“Don’t look at me with pity when I wince from pain. Instead just stop and pause with me and allow me to take it at my own pace.” – Celeste S.

“I don’t want pity, I want understanding. Soft hugs.” – Sheree S.

9. Know we are not ‘exaggerating’ or ‘seeking attention.’

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Pexels - Pressmaster Source: Pexels - Pressmaster

Try to understand that just because you can’t fathom what a friend is going through doesn’t mean they aren’t actually dealing with a real illness. That’s the rub of chronic illness- if you haven’t got one, you won’t be able to understand just how bad it is or just how awful it makes them feel. Thankfully, you don’t have to. You just have to understand that it’s a real illness that they are going through, and it may never go away. Hopefully, though, neither will you.

“To know that I don’t exaggerate my illness. My disorder is permanent and doesn’t go away.” – Hope H.

“Know that I am not seeking attention or asking for a pity party when I tell you how I am doing. I just want to be honest.” — Sara M.

10. Physical touch goes a long way.

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Pexels - Anna Shvets Source: Pexels - Anna Shvets

Never forget the power of touch. It instantly washes away the feeling that “no one” will understand or be able to love and support them. Having your arms wrapped around them is instant proof that their feelings aren’t always a reflection of their reality.

“A hug. Sometimes the pain is so bad that someone being present with me sharing a hug goes a long way.” – Hurtadi-Palomo J.

“A cuddle and someone to say everything will be OK.” — Rosie J.

11. Drop expectations.

“No expectations.” – Amelia G.

12. Have patience.

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Remember that everyone works on their own clock, and sometimes a person’s clock might not tick the same way that yours does. Be patient with your friends and allow them to do things in their own time without any of the guilt trips. They are doing their best just the same as you- the only difference is that their “best” might be different from yours, and that is perfectly okay.

“I’m trying my best.” — Adrienne C.

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Source: Pexels, The Mighty