10 Ways to Love Someone With a Chronic Illness
This piece was written by Carol Michael, a Thought Catalog contributor.
I have an impressive list of illnesses that, unless directed by God to skiddaddle, are here to stay. I overwhelm most doctors with my list of symptoms. My diet is limited to about 15 mushy, mostly green foods. Gluten is evil and sugar is its cousin. I check out medical books from the library because I’ve exhausted the Internet. Let’s just say I’m an expert at having chronic illnesses (CIs).
Yes, I am a person with many CIs, but I also have so many amazing people who love me. When you love someone with a CI, the most important thing is showing them you genuinely care, and being blessed when they return it in their own way. Here are 10 simple ways to show love.
1. Be specific and be intentional.
Instead of asking “How can I help?” say something like, “How can I make your life easier this week?” or “Tell me three things you regularly buy at the grocery store.” If you ask a general question, you’re going to get a general answer that won’t provide you with any real information. Maybe I need someone to accompany me on a long drive to doctor in the middle of nowhere or I need time to get back to you with my answer later because I’ve completely blanked on my life needs at the moment. Either way, thank you, you’re the best, hug.
2. Hug. Hug. Hug.
It is scientifically proven that hugs raise serotonin levels, strengthen the immune system (unless the hugger has the flu, then no stay away for the love of all that is good), and have several other health benefits. Obviously, if your friend isn’t a fan of hugs, don’t. If you live far away, at least for me, a virtual hug makes me feel virtually loved. Oh and hug lightly, I’m fragile.
3. Be thoughtful.
Figure out their cheat food and utilize that knowledge. Even though most days are filled with ridiculous amount of mushy vegetable and monotonous proteins, some days the only things that will get me through are Skittles and a weird music binge. Figure out your friend and enable them to deal. Send treats, send music, send them links to oddly specific math articles you know they will enjoy (not me, if you send me math things, we are not friends).
Another part of being thoughtful is remembering. If last week I told you I’m trying a new supplement, ask me how it’s going. If we’re really friends, you don’t need to worry about being nosy. I will give you as much detail as I’m comfortable with.
4. Analyze how you compliment.
Having a CI changes the way you view your body, because in essence, you may feel that it is failing you and that somehow you are to blame. Because I tend to look “fine” on the outside (as many silent people with CIs do) people will gravitate towards telling me that I look great. Because I have been raised by wonderful parents, I will politely smile and thank you. And when I clearly spent an extra 10 minutes doing my eye makeup, feel free to praise. But, in general, can we stop talking about my body? Tell me you couldn’t stop smiling when I sent you that ridiculous Snapchat or the article I sent you about that thing we were talking about was helpful. Basically, what I do have control over is fair game for to mention.
5. I may not come, but invite me anyway.
Tell me you want me there, tell me it’s OK if I can’t make it, tell me to just show up if I can, and tell me you missed me when I don’t come. I think this is how everyone wants to be treated anyway. Making social commitments is especially hard when symptoms can flare up at any time. Doing this will make it clear to your friend that your first priority, even in you wishing them to be at your get together, is their health and well-being.
6. Medical advice: tread carefully.
Unless you know someone else who has the exact same disease and benefited from the advice, a medical study/article with hard facts, or a physician whom you or someone you know has greatly benefited from, I don’t want to hear it. Don’t tell me you think I should try vitamin C because it helps your cold symptoms or that your brother’s ex-wife has a similar disease and she ate peaches for a week and started getting better. That’s not how it works.
7. Only say you’ll pray for me if you mean it.
I believe in the power of prayer, and I would love it if you pray for me. Ask me for something specific to pray about, follow up a few weeks later; pray expecting results. “I will pray for you,” should not be a phrase you just let roll off your tongue. Don’t cheapen something that is sacred.
8. Step away from clichés.
“At least you don’t have cancer.” True, I don’t have cancer. But, don’t belittle my pain just because it is not as acutely life-threatening.
“You’ll get better soon.” You don’t know that, and neither do I. I’m a realist, so basically that sounds like a lie to me.
“Think positive.” OK, thank you
A lot of times the best thing you can say is, “I’m sorry, that sucks.” I will nod, and say, “Thank you, it does suck.” *hugs*
9. Be normal.
Even though I’m in pain 90 percent of the time, I laugh and dance and sing in the car and do all the little things everyone else does. I make incredibly weird jokes and conjure accents with elaborate back-stories. Do those things with me. We don’t always have to be so serious. Help me forget my pain, but make sure I know that you haven’t forgotten it (not all in the same moment, obvs). Eat whatever the hell you eat, eat it in front of me, and eat it unashamedly. Let me be part of life without everything having to be a big deal. There will be times when we’re talking about the presidential candidates or the fact that when I’m at Whole Foods I feel out of place unless I look like I’m headed to the gym afterwards and I will nonchalantly pull out a bottle of apple cider vinegar and take a couple of swigs. Roll with it.
10. Be open.
I usually have no choice but to talk about my CIs because they come up when I can’t eat something or can’t do something, so you be vulnerable too. Tell me your struggles, so I can support you and so I can be like, “You’re a mess too… sweet.”
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Thinkstock photo by bellerebelle_n