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12 Ways to Help Someone Struggling With a Chronic Illness

Asking for help takes courage, especially when living with a chronic illness. When our whole family found ourselves struggling during the holiday season, I reached out for support from my online community of friends and family. I discovered during this journey what was important and how people could help support us in a loving and caring way.

I do my best to stay strong and stand in my power. But throughout my chronic illness I have had my breakdowns. I feel the anxiety, depression and lung pain returning each evening. I’m not sure how much more of this I can handle. I’m exhausted. I’m tired. When will it end?

Knowing how to help and what to do is critical to supporting those who are struggling. Here are 12 ways you can help support someone struggling with a chronic illness.

1. Lend a helping hand.

People who are struggling don’t necessarily have the energy or mental capacity to figure out what they need or to even ask. Reach out to find out how you can help. Some basic needs that can relieve some of the pressure include helping with laundry, washing dishes, cleaning up around the house, bringing/cooking a healthy meal, grocery shopping and offering to take care of the kids.

2. Keep your eyes and ears open.

If you see someone who has been going through a lot, reach out to them. Remember if someone is really struggling, they are in survival mode and can only focus on what is in front of them. Being able to see the bigger picture and ask for help isn’t easy. They are often living minute to minute, hour to hour, and day to day just to keep moving forward.

3. Be mindful about inviting people to parties.

For those of us who are struggling and having difficulty addressing life’s basic needs, a party can feel overwhelming and even more isolating. Yes, we want to feel normal and not left out of things. However, it can be exhausting, especially for introverts to socialize in a group setting. Our energy is focused on surviving basic daily tasks such as work, chores, caring for children, cooking meals and resting. Parties can feel like an unnecessary luxury without any kind of help and support to meet basic needs.

4. Create an opportunity for connection.

Yes, we may feel overwhelmed and parties may not be the best right now, but it is easy to feel isolated. Offer to come visit and bring some tea, a snack and/or a meal. You can even come visit and fold a load of laundry or help around the house. If they desire, take them out for tea, lunch, a show or other event they enjoy. Pick up the phone and call or send a message based on the preference of the individual. If you don’t know, ask.

5. Be positive and avoid being critical.

Yes, we are struggling and are already dealing with a lot of negativity from our situation. We need energy that is positive and uplifting without being annoyingly happy. Help us find the humor in our situation. Laughter can be the best medicine. Just be cautious on how far you take it. Notice facial expressions or body language to see if you have gone too far. If uncertain, just ask.

6. If someone has been ill, make sure to reach out to the partner or caregiver that is helping.

The extra responsibility this person is taking on can be just as overwhelming if not more for the caregiver. They may need a safe place to vent as they don’t want to burden their partner who is ill or struggling.

7. If there are children involved, offer to watch their kids for a couple hours or even overnight.

Ask to take the kids somewhere fun to get away from the extra stress within the household. The kids also need to play and their opportunities may be limited when the family’s focus is on survival.

8. If you are still uncertain of what to do, ask to stop by and visit.

You can often discover what someone needs just by seeing their home environment and talking with them. Just call or message ahead to determine the best time to visit. When someone is overwhelmed, they may not be able to think clearly and know how or what to ask for.

9. Organize a group of people to help.

We all have lots of responsibilities, and it may seem like yet another to help someone in need. The great thing is you don’t always have to do it all alone. Find out what the individual needs and create a list to send out to family and friends. One easy platform is SignUp Genius and it is free. You can create a list of specific items, activities and resources and individuals sign up for what they can do. If there is a financial need, people may use platforms such as GoFundMe and other crowdfunding resources.

10. Avoid placing unnecessary responsibilities on the person in need.

For the caregiving types, we love to help and it can be a very good distraction, but the focus needs to be on relieving some of the stress. It is already difficult to only receive, and it’s easy for us to feel guilty about not being able to help. Even the simplest tasks can take people over the edge. When we feel completely empty and drained, now is not the time to be asking for help. And avoid decision-making tasks that can easily put someone into overwhelm mode as they already have a lot of decisions they are having to make during this time.

11. When you don’t have much time to give or live far away, you can still help.

There are a variety of companies that will make, deliver or ship meals. For those in the Seattle and surrounding area who have dietary restrictions, The Secret Ingredient is a great local resource. There are also a variety of online meal delivery options. Another great resource for relieving the pressures of a household and everyday tasks is TaskRabbit. You can buy gift cards through this company or hire someone to come and help with specific tasks such as general house maintenance, construction, cleaning, running errands and more.

12. Encourage exercise.

One of the first things to go during stressful periods is exercise. Yet it is one of the most critical things we can do for our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Offer to go on a walk or take them to a class such as Nia, yoga or even meditation. Nia has been my lifeline. When I need the emotional release, I have a safe place to cry. When I need inspiring, positive and uplifting energy, I walk away feeling stronger and empowered to move forward during these tough times.

Healing is a journey and we can’t do it alone. We need support no matter who we are and what the situation may be. Being honest about our struggles with our friends and family is the first step towards healing and receiving the support we need. I am so grateful to our friends who stepped up to help us move forward and see the light within the darkness.