6 Tips for Explaining Your Chronic Illness to a New Friend

Explaining your chronic illness to a new friend or family member can sometimes be quite an anxiety-ridden process. You never know how this person will react to your illness. Will they be supportive, judgmental or just not care at all? As someone with multiple autoimmune diseases, I’ve come across all of these scenarios.  

When you have a disease such as lupus, you may find that most people don’t know anything about it. This is not only an opportunity for you to educate and spread awareness, but also for this person to understand how to be a good friend to you, if they so choose.     

Unfortunately, you will come across people who do not want anything to do with someone who has a chronic illness. They may have a preconceived notion that you will be “needy,” so they don’t even try to be empathetic to your situation. I am not offended by these types of people. Not everyone is strong enough, selfless enough or willing enough to be a good friend to someone with a chronic illness.

Here are some tips I hope can help you through the process of explaining your chronic illness to a friend or loved one:

1. Try to have a one-on-one conversation; this will help you and your friend not feel overwhelmed by discussing something so personal around someone else.

2. Throughout your conversation, make sure to ask if they understand or if they have any questions about the information you are telling them. Try to remember you may have felt just as confused or unsure when you first received the news.

3. If they have not heard of your illness, you could assure them you didn’t quite understand it at first either so they don’t feel intimidated or embarrassed by being unaware of your disease. Remember, many of us may have had no clue what our disease was until we were diagnosed.

4. I like to have some websites in mind when I am first telling someone about my illness — ones that have great information for someone new to the disease and offer advice for friends and loved ones of someone with a chronic illness. This person may want to research your illness and learn more information so they can be a better friend to you and understand your situation.

5. Explain how your disease may affect your ability to attend events. I find this very important because I like to be upfront with friends; this way, they are not expecting anything from me I cannot do. I like to tell them I cannot promise to make it to every event, but I will always try my best to be there when I can.

6. Always allow your friend or loved one time to digest the information they have been given. Let them know you are there if they have any questions at a later time and are always open to discussing any concerns or questions they may have regarding your illness.

I find being very open from the beginning can be a great start to any friendship, especially one in which one friend has a chronic illness. If you allow someone to fully understand your situation from the start, this will enable them to be a better friend in return.

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