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12 Ways to Show Love to Your Chronically Ill Friends

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I am lucky and very blessed to have some friends whom I think are pretty special! These are the friends who are still around and understand me and my illness.

I first became ill in the middle of 2014. Finally, I received a diagnosis in April 2015. I had severe asthma. Then came a cascade of other things happening all at the same time. I had sleep apnea. My thyroid wasn’t working properly and I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease. Then, six months further on, type 2 diabetes. Three years on, chronic kidney disease. So lots of health issues to manage and to learn to live with.

To say that every aspect of my life has been affected is a gross understatement! It has been a roller coaster and a seesaw with a merry-go-round attached – all operating at the same time!

Each diagnosis was, “Take a deep breath. You can deal with this.” My family had little choice, that’s what love is like in our family. We know that each of us has struggles but we are always there for each other. Each member of my family has been positive and helped me in lots of different ways. The medical scientist son has consulted colleagues for the latest medical information and clarified things I didn’t understand. The engineer son has organized how to keep the air dry and remove impurities. My other son has worried and phoned to make sure I am OK, and he has provided recipes that help me with my diabetes.

Friendship is a choice, though. I have made many friends over the years. I am 68 so many friends have come, stayed a while and gone. Some have just sort of dropped off the radar. A few have been actively excluded after discovering how toxic they are. I just will not have such people draining life out of me anymore. But only a few friends have really stuck through the chronic illness.

My health problems have resulted in having to move to a different climate that allows my lungs to function. So distance has been a factor…Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Well, it doesn’t strengthen friendships. It virtually sinks most friendships. Having moved away means I no longer have the usual support network based on friendships. It is hard to make friends in a new place when you are chronically ill. My illness limits my ability to be out and about or involved socially. My special friends are very important to me and to my wellbeing.

My medications affect my moods too. I am not the usually calm, rather accepting person that I once was. My illness has also changed my priorities. I would rather have a long chat on the phone than meet up for coffee.  Meeting up for coffee requires energy. Energy to get up, get dressed nicely, and go somewhere and deal with shopping centers or crowds. A phone call can be completed while I lie on my bed! I don’t want to go to the movies or out to dinner. I don’t want to be around crowds of people – they cough and sneeze, they wear strong perfumes and/or people smoke. This is not good for me to be around. It drains me, and some situations can cause an asthma attack. Me energy reserves are limited and I have learnt to try not to over extend myself.

Now, these special friends are the ones who:

1. Encourage me to stay home when I am having a flare-up. They encourage me to rest and take care of myself.

2. Surprise me! For example, they might send me books that they have enjoyed, or other things they think I might enjoy. One sent me the most beautiful coloring book!

3. Phone me.

4. Know when things are really bad. They know I don’t have enough breath for a phone conversation, so they text, email, or stay in contact through social media.

5. Totally accept last minute changes and cancellations. No questions.

6. Listen.

7. Don’t get frustrated when I talk about asthma. Or talk about how I am or how I am feeling. After all, the asthma is pretty much the driving issue for every aspect of my life now! Where I live, what I can and cannot do.

7. Send me silly messages and things to make me laugh.

8. Are kind.

9. Maintain contact. They share their life with me.

10. Connect. Not just on a superficial level. They actually know me – not just know about me. I know them too. It is mutual.

11. Have learned about my illnesses. They actually understand and will say, “Not a good idea Rosie!” when they think I need to hear this.

There are about six of these friends left in my life. Two of these are extra special. What sets them apart is that they check in on me. They won’t let me go for days without some sort of contact. I treasure these two. They have become like sisters! I actually rely on these two to always be there for me. That feeling is reciprocal.

There are others that stay in touch via social media. And I am grateful for those friends too. I have even made some new friends this way.

So how, as a friend, can you love and support your chronically ill friends?

1. Listen.

2. Learn as as much as you can about the illness.

3. Don’t judge your friend.

4. Don’t make suggestions for treatments. Unsolicited advice can be upsetting when you are battling to get through each day! If asked, then by all means share what you know.

5. Stay in touch in as personal a way as possible. One friend sends me a meme morning and night with a little hello or goodnight comment. Very brief, but I know she cares and makes the efforts to let me know she cares!

6. Don’t make constant requests for outings. It’s much better to say, “Call me if you want to go out!  I’ll be there ASAP. And I’ll organize to take you!”

7. Respect the limitations that the illness imposes.

8. Be kind and patient.

9. Little thoughtful surprises can really brighten up someone’s day! One friend keeps chickens. She knocked on my door when I was visiting my hometown with a dozen fresh eggs! She didn’t stay. She just said, “Hi, thought you might like these.” What joy.

10. Share your life. Share your joys, your ups and downs and your celebrations just as you did before your friend became ill.

11. Maintain your deep connection. These connections are important for self-worth. Just because I am ill, doesn’t mean we can’t have deep and meaningful discussions.

12. If visiting, learn to recognize the signs that you need to leave. Don’t stay too long.

Special friends are a true blessings and brighten my life.

Getty Image by SeventyFour

Originally published: May 25, 2018
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