The Mighty Logo

15 Ways You Can Support a Friend With Chronic Illness Who's Struggling

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Think of how you feel when you have gotten a cold or the flu. Imagine an injury and the pain you experience with it. How did you feel? Were you tired? Did you feel like crap? Would you have done anything to make it stop? Did you look forward to the day when you would “get over it” and feel better? Did you feel guilty for laying around and not being able to help? Were you sometimes a difficult patient? Were you frustrated and tell yourself you did not have time for this? Were you sick and tired of being sick and tired?

Now imagine you have felt that way, not for a few days, a week or not even a few times a year, but imagine you have felt that way on some level every day for the last 20 years.

Chronic Illness — the name says it all. Day in and day out you are faced with a battle that never ends. Unlike other sicknesses, there is no end in sight. Short of a miracle, or a new cure, it will follow you in some way, shape or form the rest of your life.

It can be exhausting and overwhelming. While sometimes you just want to give up because you cannot go on anymore, you also discover that you have strength to keep going because you simply do not have any other choice. There are days when you feel isolated and days when you feel no one understands. You can be misunderstood by family and friends and you can constantly feel like you are not meeting other people’s expectations.

Many times, those around you are the only thing that keeps you going. Because of their love, care, support and help, you continue to find the strength to take one more step. Recently, others who battle chronic illness shared what we need from our friends to keep fighting.

Here are what some of my fellow warriors had to say:

1. Believe us.

“Anyone who doesn’t deal with a chronic illness should not take what is seen by their own eyes as truth. Instead of judging with their eyes they should listen to what is said by those who are experiencing the illness. Empathy and mindfulness are key.” — Kate L.

2. Bring the party to us.

“One of the most amazing things friends have done for me when I was struggling was to ‘bring the outing to me’… It made me feel so loved and included to have them accommodate me and want to spend time [with me]. I’ve been extremely lucky to find caring friends.” – Chris R.

“I need them to know that I am still their friend even if it feels like I’ve dropped off the face of the earth.” — Pamela J.

“Play dates. My friends would invite me over, sit me down, hand me a coffee and run around after all the kids. They made a huge difference in the worst stage of my life.” – Karen J.

“For them to show up. Send me a message first. Make time for a phone call. Respond when I am really struggling.” — Angel S.

“Human interaction.” — Dani S.

3. Find a way to help.

“If you know I am struggling and you want to help, drop off a meal. Ask if I need anything from the store or whatever chore you think might be helpful to the person in your life. Also, invite me and please don’t ever stop inviting me. It means so much to be thought of.” – Karin P.

“Help with errands and little everyday tasks. Can’t show up? A text or a short phone call just to check. A thought, a word, everything helps. Everything.” – Francesca S.

4. Understanding.

“Understand why I go into hermit mode when I’m going through my worst, and not take it personally. It’s literally the only way for me to be able to cope and deal with what I’m going through during that time.” – Jessica H.

“One thing I need is understanding.” — Madi N.

“Someone to listen and try their best to understand. Give advice when I ask for it. Someone to relate or come over or laugh about it. Someone to share things with.” — Danielle V.

“[Understand] that my tired is extreme exhaustion that could put me in [the] hospital. So saying, “I’m tired too” is invalidating. I’m not ‘just tired.'” – Ruu K.

5. Learn, know and plan for my disability. 

“It’s nice to have friends know just what my basic needs are so I don’t have to always apologize for changing the plans or needing something different.” – Cobi H.

6. Checking in often makes all the difference.

“Just simply to check in with me. Ask if I need anything. Just being asked always makes me feel so much less isolated.” – Gloria M.

“Just check in with me. In the beginning everyone did — then, when I had to cancel lots of plans, the messages and calls stopped. Besides my close family, nobody really bothers anymore.” – Maren F.

“I have two people who I use to work with who still check up on me. I just wish that people would remember that I didn’t leave on my own, I was pushed away because of my chronic illness and became the ‘leper.'”  – Sheri H.

7. Let us change the subject.

“I don’t mind sharing but I appreciate most when they demonstrate understanding, allow me to vent if need be, then move on to a different topic all together.” — Stephanie B.

8. Forget the pity.

“Don’t look at me with pity when I wince from pain. Instead just stop and pause with me and allow me to take it at my own pace.” – Celeste S.

“I don’t want pity, I want understanding. Soft hugs.” – Sheree S.

9. Know we are not ‘exaggerating’ or ‘seeking attention.’ 

“To know that I don’t exaggerate my illness. My disorder is permanent and doesn’t go away.” – Hope H.

“Know that I am not seeking attention or asking for a pity party when I tell you how I am doing. I just want to be honest.” — Sara M.

10. Physical touch goes a long way.

“A hug. Sometimes the pain is so bad that someone being present with me sharing a hug goes a long way.” – Hurtadi-Palomo J.

“A cuddle and someone to say everything will be OK.” — Rosie J.

11. Drop expectations.

“No expectations.” – Amelia G.

12. Have patience.

“I’m trying my best.” — Adrienne C.

13. Listen to us.

“To be heard.” — Theresa B.

14. Don’t try to be a savior.

“Not to try and fix.” — Jan E.

15. Give us time if we need it.

“Space.” – Kristie C.

Many times, it is the small, simple ways that care is shown. It does not have to be some great and enormous act, just small, simple, everyday ways of showing that you love and care for us. In these simple touches, you remind us that we are not alone, that we are loved and that someone is there for us in this fight. That, more that anything, will help us keep fighting and will give us the strength to take just one more step.

For all of those who do these things — thank you. We could not face and fight this battle without you.

Photo by Dom Aguiar on Unsplash

Originally published: October 2, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home