10 Ways to Be a Good Friend When You Live With Chronic Illness
Kind friends and family have asked me what they can do for me. They want to know how to help make my life a tad easier. However, truly healthy relationships aren’t so one-sided. Major health issues tend to focus all of the accommodating efforts around one person – the “sick one.” That’s certainly true for me, so it’s especially important to show my appreciation and affection. I won’t be the friend shifting moving boxes or picking someone up from the airport at midnight, but there are positive things I can do for my loved ones.
Here are my top 10 tips for being a good friend while living with chronic illness…
1. Make the most of the little things. Sick people often receive cards and gifts, and flipping the script can be a lovely change. Little gestures of kindness can make a huge difference, and help friends to feel the love.
2. Approach entertaining as a team effort. Entertaining a group at my home involves cleaning and preparing food, which are two tiring activities. I accept help with one or both parts, and share hosting duties with family or friends. Our time will be way more enjoyable for everyone if I’m not overwhelmingly symptomatic. In the end, the real goal is to have quality time together.
3. Remember to express your gratitude. Even if people automatically pitch in to help, they still need to feel loved and appreciated. Rather than wait until a traditionally card-worthy moment, call your friend or write a note expressing your gratitude for their loyal friendship. Yes, it’s corny and it matters!
4. When you can, meet friends halfway. Literally hanging out halfway between our homes takes some of the strain or pressure off of my friends. When that’s not possible for me, I try to stock up on their favorite foods or suggest doing something low-key they’re known to enjoy.
5. Listen to stories of their achievements and worries. As intense and personal as my tales of “medical adventures” are, my friends have many stories worth hearing. I want them to feel as seen and heard as I do in their presence. Their experiences and feelings are just as real and valid as mine.
6. Be honest about your feelings. OK, so there are times when I feel a tad peeved or irked, and communicating that is vital. Relationships are imperfect, and physical pains can amplify any issues. You’re not required to accept uncomfortable situations just because you’re the higher-maintenance “sick friend.” Honor loved ones by opening up and working through the tough stuff.
7. Let friends enjoy high-energy activities without guilt. Many of my friends are able to participate in activities that simply don’t work for me right now. It’s more than OK for them to express their excitement, and I sometimes have to remind them of that. Being excited for your friends – plus letting them know you are – is a wonderful way to remain involved.
8. Have mini celebrations when you can’t make it to big events. When my siblings had high school and college graduations, I didn’t make it to every celebration. Instead, we had celebratory dinners and they told me all about the events. You can do that with friends, too. Actually, continuing to celebrate a friend after the main event might be better than sitting as one more in the crowd. Hey, it’s double the attention and fun!
9. Keep friends “in the loop.” This one is case-by-case, and it works best with people who can handle the rough moments of chronic illness. I’ve underestimated my friends’ capacity to care or understand my health challenges in the past, so I try to give them a chance to “get it.” Taking a moment – or hour – to explain your chronic illness(es) might help a friend feel more valued and trusted. Of course, prioritizing your own comfort and safety is important.
10. Don’t over-apologize for things outside of your control. A friend who says “sorry” all the time and carries the weight of guilt is no fun to be around. Due to my health conditions, several parts of my life are outside of my control. Accepting that, sometimes explaining it, and resolving to enjoy the time I do have with my friends makes a huge difference.
Being a good friend is about emotionally “showing up” with love, not the quantity of time you spend face-to-face.
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Thinkstock photo via ruslanshramko.