5 Ways to Support Your Chronically Ill Friends
I know it can be hard to find the words, to know what to say, when someone opens up to you about their struggles, their pain. How do I know it’s hard? Because, even though I have a lifetime of experience with my own chronic illness and chronic pain, I still wind up at a loss for words at times, when someone is deeply hurting.
I search through my thoughts, wondering what I can say or do to help them, all while feeling a bit helpless. Feeling like nothing I say or do can possibly be enough, which breaks my heart. I have this deep, deep empathy inside of me, and I’d rather feel pain myself than see others struggling.
Then, you add in the fact that every person is different and will respond differently to different words. The last thing you want to do when trying to support someone is to say the wrong thing and cause them more pain.
But, I have some tips to help people through these moments, when they are searching for something to say, to show they care and are there for the other person.
1. Let them know that you hear them. Tell them that you can see how much they are struggling and let them know they have every right to be feeling how they are feeling right now.
Try to veer away from saying that you understand. In all likelihood, you probably don’t. If you do relate to a very strong degree, that can sometimes be helpful, showing them they aren’t alone.
2. Tell them that you’re here for them. That you’re a safe place to vent all of their feelings. That you’re so glad you can help them in this small way. Honored that they are trusting you to be there when they are feeling so fragile.
Don’t tell them that they shouldn’t be feeling how they feel. Minimizing feelings, or saying they are wrong, isn’t helpful.
3. Offer to help them in a concrete way. Ask if they could use some premade dinners; volunteer to bring them a casserole or some dinners they can freeze and heat up when needed. Ask if they need help cleaning. Ask if they’d like some company; volunteer to come over and have coffee. Ask if they need any errands run; volunteer to take them to the store or ask them to give you a list of things they need that you’ll pick up for them.
Don’t judge the cleanliness of their house or the amount of food in their fridge.
4. Periodically send them a “thinking of you” text, or phone call, and ask how they are doing. Send a card through snail mail. Show them that someone out there cares and is thinking of them. It can really mean a lot to have someone else start the conversation and ask how you are doing. Otherwise, it can feel like we are too needy, if we are always the ones initiating the conversation about our struggles. This can lead to reaching out less and less because no one wants to feel like a burden.
Don’t ignore them because you don’t think you can help. Simply showing you care is a huge help. Illness can be extremely isolating.
5. Ask if distractions will help. Ask if they want to see or hear about something funny. If they do, have some fun!! Fun can be very rare when feeling really sick, but it’s such a blessing and can make a rough day a lot easier.
Don’t try to force a change in the conversation, ask if it’s something that will help them right now.
To sum up, just show that you care. Tell them you care. Offer specific help. Extend your ear and your friendship. Come to them and show you want to know how they are doing and that you want them to be honest about it. All of this will go a long way in helping someone who’s struggling feel like they are loved, heard and supported.
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