How to Support Someone You Know With a Chronic Illness
As I grow as a person and find myself able to manage how my illnesses show up in my daily life (better yet, how I hide them), I find myself in a predicament when I encounter people who don’t really know how to effectively communicate or support someone with a chronic illness.
For example, when people see me take my medication, I tend to get the universal sad face. As much as I know it may come from a place of genuine concern, I don’t want your pity party. Please stop.
Which brings me here, where I thought I’d give some insight in the dos and don’ts in terms of support, or at least a place to start.
(That being said, chronic illness affects everyone differently and it’s always good to ask the person in your life who might be suffering what works for them.)
Check in with us.
Many of us have a habit of not putting out there how we feel. We communicate only on the surface level rather than talking about how our conditions may be changing or affecting us. So ask us.
If you haven’t heard from us in a while, see us taking a step back, notice a change in our habits or just want to see how we’re really doing, ask us. A simple, “How’s your *place conditions here* been treating you recently?” can make a difference by letting us know we have someone who understands we have something going on, and wants to know how we are.
With that said, if you do ask, listen to what we say. I know it must be hard when you don’t know what to say or do to help, but a lot of the time, it’s nice to just have someone there who is willing to listen.
Try not to throw around those, “I hope you feel better soon” comments too much. For many people, they don’t help — I assure you. Maybe think about replacing those words with things like, “If you need any support, I’m here for you.”
Learn about our illness/ask questions.
For some people, the issue of communication surrounds having a condition/illness people are unfamiliar with or have never heard of. Don’t feel afraid to ask us how we feel or about what our condition entails (you can also do a quick Google search to research what it is). This lets us know you’re honestly wanting to take an interest in how we are and what we go through. It doesn’t seem like a lot but having someone who is willing to learn and educate themselves makes a huge difference.
But don’t act as an expert on our condition.
If you perform a Google search to find information on a condition, please understand that does not give you the right to tell someone how they should manage it or how they should feel. Avoid comments like, “Exercise will help” or “Changing your diet can help cure it.” Some people have tried it all and that one blog post you read doesn’t give you insight to what it’s like to live with that condition.
Thank you for caring and trying to help, but unsolicited advice is not helpful.
Don’t say things like, “You don’t look disabled,” “You seem healthy enough” or “You were fine the other day.”
Just don’t do it. Certain conditions are called invisible illnesses for a reason. People experience flare-ups, conditions are unpredictable and we get damn good at hiding it too.
Be patient with us.
We experience periods of remission and flares ups (good days and bad days), and sometimes we can’t do the things you’re used to us doing. So please be flexible and patient with us.
For example, if you want to hang out but I’m sore or tired, we can have a movie day in our pj’s with some snacks. Try not to assume we can’t do anything. Communication is everything.
Don’t make comparisons.
That time you pulled a muscle in your leg isn’t necessarily the same as my my chronic condition. Please don’t tell me, ”I know exactly how you feel.” Even if that comparison is coming from a good place, interjecting your own experience doesn’t mean you know how we feel and it is not necessarily the same.
The most important thing when trying to support a loved one with a chronic condition is letting them know you are there. “Chronic” means it’s not necessarily going away and the best thing to do is show them you’re not going away either. Things may get better or they may get worse. The main thing you need to do is show them you will be there despite that. Sometimes we all just need a shoulder to cry on.
These are some of the things I personally find to be important with support, but how do you feel? Is there anything you would add or do you have may questions? Let me know!
As always, thanks for reading!
Love Autumn x