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12 Easy Ways to Be a Better Friend to Someone With Chronic Illness

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Coping with loss and grieve is something familiar to most people with chronic illnesses. When I became sick, my condition took away many things that were important to me, including the profession I was passionate about. But by far the most painful experience was that I additionally lost many loved ones I always thought were close friends — an experience so familiar to most of us. 

Luckily, it turned out I had a handful of true friends around me who never left my side, who always tried to comfort me. However, I sometimes forget that they struggle with my health issues just as much as I do. Not knowing how or if they can help bothers them, and I am sure some of your friends might feel the same way. They want to help, but they are unsure what to do. 

This is why we asked our community what easy things a person can do to be a better friend to someone with a chronic illness.

Here is what our community shared with us: 

1. Just listen.

”When we are frustrated and complain we aren’t looking for you to fix the problem, we just want someone to listen to us.” – Ally T.

”Listen with an open heart. Really hear what they say. By doing this, you lead to understanding. Understanding leads to love. Love leads to care. Caring leads back to listening. Be a circle of hope for that person.” – Valerie W.

”Don’t try and ‘fix it,’ just listen to them. Don’t give them suggestions or advice, they’ve more than likely tried, done or heard before.” – Janelle F. 

2. Be understanding when we have to cancel plans.

”We don’t cancel plans because we want to sit at home. It’s because we have to.” — Ally T. 

”Understand that I have to be a friend on my schedule, in my way and my time.” — Tammy L. 

”Don’t be angry when we cancel plans. We want to go but sometimes can’t. Do not make last minute plans, we need a plan in order to prepare ourselves for a day out or for a random visit.” — Farzana K.

3. Be supportive when your friend chooses to open up about their illness.

”Do understand that we constantly downplay our struggles and try to be tough because we’re worried about being called selfish or too sensitive, so, if we’re showing or telling you about our pain, we’re making a deliberate choice to be vulnerable with you because we want and need your support.” — Angela S. 

4. Don’t give up on us.

”I’m professional at pushing people away because of my illness. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to be that friend who ‘can’t do things’ so I rarely let people in. But the ones who have made it passed my walls, have literally had to almost grab me, shake my shoulders and say ‘despite your illness, despite your limitations. Your worth having in my life!’” – Megan M.

”Keep inviting us to hang out even if we often decline, one day we may say ‘yes!’ We need to feel included and to still be part of a community.” – Melaney N.

5. Let us know that you appreciate our friendship.

”Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge whether someone is giving up on you or sticking with you, and it’s even harder to ask about it. A little reassurance goes a long way.” – Samantha L.

”It’s a huge help when you take the initiative and simply reassure our pain-taxed minds that you honestly want a relationship with us even when we’re physically unpredictable or not capable of much.” – Angela S.

6. Take the first step to reach out.

”Check in and make an effort to be the person to talk first. I feel so isolated all the time, and when someone reaches out to me, it can literally make my day.” – Hayley W.

”Just call or video chat. I don’t want to always be going to my friends when I’m going through a rough patch. I want them to want to keep in touch.” – Sally F.

7. When you’re out with your friend, find ways to help them stay comfortable.

”My friends often see signs that I’m having a flare-up before I do and make sure I’m seated and have something to drink to try and get ahead of my symptoms.” – Brittany J. 

”Make sure the person has a place to sit if you’re out somewhere and politely ask how they’re feeling. Or make sure that we are comfortable. For me, I often struggle to verbalize how I truly feel because I get embarrassed. I push through and then regret it.” – Lyssa A.

8. Spend time with them at home.

”Come to hang out at my house instead of dragging me out for hours on end, but also don’t be mad if I just want to sleep.” – Birch C.

9. Don’t stop asking questions.

”Ask how we are, ask for updates, ask us out to hang out, even when we cannot do it, we still like to get asked.”  – Farzana K. 

”Sending me a simple text message asking how I am holding up. It means a lot and goes a long way in helping me feel like I am cared about and not forgotten. Dropping off a treat and/or note letting me know they’re thinking about me — it brightens my day and the note is something I can save and go back to reread when I’m feeling down.” – Tonya W.

”I feel like people assume I don’t want to share, but that’s not the case. When people ask me questions about my illness or treatments, it makes me feel like they actually care.” – Hannah H. 

10. Don’t just assume anything. Believe us.

”Don’t assume that when I have an episode, I’m doing it for attention. Normally we try our very best to hide it, but if we do show our pain, when we are unwell or faint or anything like that, it means we really trust you.” – Farzana K. 

”Don’t say you must be feeling good you look great. I know you are being nice, but it takes all my effort to get ready and put makeup on and get dressed. I probably did nothing all week, so I could meet with you that day. I hate having to explain all the time that I’m not feeling any better.” – Shannon L.

”Believe me when I say that I hurt, haven’t gotten sleep, don’t have the energy to have a conversation. It’s not an excuse, it’s my life.” – Chris B. 

11. Offer to help them do tasks that are difficult for them.

”I truly feel blessed when a friend or family member shows up and mows my yard, brings dinner, or starts to clean my house. All three are things that can put me down for several days, but I have issues asking for help for things ‘normal’ people do every day. It’s a lot easier to say ‘Thank you’ and express gratitude than ask for help.” – Jess S.

”The best thing someone ever said to me was ‘Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you?’ Absolutely. Feed my dogs and bunnies, hang up the laundry, make the bed. These are all things that take a lot of energy that I don’t usually have.” – Brittany J.

”For me, the hardest thing to do during flares is to cook. On the days I can’t physically make myself something, I’d love to have some help.” – Lyssa A.

12. Be patient and accept who we are today.

”We already feel like a huge burden, especially when having an episode. Don’t get annoyed.” – Farzana K.

”Learn the new me and don’t have high expectations comparing to my old life which we can’t travel back to where things were really normal.” – Mariam J.

”Make time for your friends who are living with a chronic illness on their terms. Meet them and accept them for where they are at right now, not where you expect or need them to be.” – Amy M.

Originally published: September 17, 2018
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