The Mighty Logo

To Learn How Not to Treat a Friend With Chronic Illness, Watch 'The Real Housewives'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I am a reality TV junkie. I admit it. I enjoy watching people whose lives seem to be going worse than mine even though they seem to have it all. Because, realistically, no one has it all. There’s always something lurking around the corner to take you down. For me, and for one woman on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” that thing is chronic illness.

Last season, for a housewife on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” chronic and nasty health issues were the center of attention. Yolanda Hadid (formerly Foster) was dealing with a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease. Yet throughout the entire season, Yolanda looked relatively healthy and was able to take part in several “normal” activities. That became the story line for the entire season: Was she healthy or not? And all the hubbub was based on her outward appearance and the activities she participated in on the days she actually had energy — both hallmarks of most chronic diseases, such as Lyme, that her friends neglected to understand.

Here’s how it played out. Yolanda had been diagnosed in the previous season with chronic Lyme disease. Being who she is, she has access to, and utilized, a variety of treatment options most of us don’t have. Also being who she is, she was very open and forthcoming about her life at that time posting pictures of treatments such as IV infusions, having her breast implants removed, and having all her metal fillings taken out in order to combat the effects of the disease and try to find a cure. She showed us her closet full of medicines and supplements she took daily to help lessen her symptoms and improve her overall health while fighting the disease. A former model, Yolanda showed us herself at her lowest — with no makeup, no glamour hair, in pajamas and in pain. Just a real person tired and fighting a relentless disease.

But she also showed her good days. Days when she had enough energy to go out a bit or visit friends before collapsing back into bed. Or the infamous day on her boat, gaining much-needed energy from the sun and sea around her no matter how tired she would end up that evening. Yolanda let us into the realities of her struggle.

So it was very disappointing to see her friends question her authenticity. They questioned her reality — being so sick one day, yet up and around the next. Apparently, research was done into her condition but instead of info on Lyme, the word “Munchausen” came back as a possible explanation. Munchausen syndrome! A mental disorder in which the person makes up symptoms to garner a feeling of importance through the need to be cared for. This is the same as accusing her of faking her illness. Let me tell you, the one thing those of us with chronic illness never want to hear, yet hear all to often, is that we are faking our illnesses. In this case, not one friend appeared to research Lyme disease. If they had, they would have found out that there are good days and bad days, and the mechanisms that keep this disease active are unknown at this time. That’s the research that should have been done. And a true friend would have. But it remained a theme all the way through the season that she could be faking her illness. Deplorable. For every one who may be faking it, there are tens of thousands who are not and whose life is hell and totally out of their control due to a chronic disease and the treatments.

As someone who has a chronic disease myself, I found it difficult to accept this course of action by her so-called friends. This woman, who needed the most support of her life, got none. Her friends didn’t appear to be there for her on the days she was at her worst, which is when all of us who suffer from chronic illnesses need you more than we will say. And she got judged for taking advantage of the days she felt good, which is terrible because we all look forward to that day when we feel good enough to go out and be normal again. This was all caused by the inappropriate label given to a chronically ill woman by her friends. Something that happens more than it should to all of us.

So here’s my advice: When you have a friend who is chronically ill, research their diagnosis. How hard is it, really, to get acquainted with their symptoms? You will understand so much more about what your friend is going through. You won’t have to guess or question what this symptom has to do with the disease because you’ll already know. And your effort will be appreciated. Of the millions out there with chronic disease diagnoses, most are telling the truth. Please keep that in mind. Our bodies have become hard enough for us to understand so we can’t always explain it to you. But it’s real! And the more you know on your own, the more helpful it is to us!

Because I am dealing with something unpredictable and painful, I watch reality shows to escape. And I figured out that if I have to explain too many things about my disease to someone, maybe they are not a friend I need around. I certainly saw the extent of the questions Yolanda had to face and the fact that no one looked into her actual disease. At all! But I did, because I have Sjogren’s syndrome and know nothing about other nasty diseases except that they exist. And if I could get right to the heart of the matter as just a fan, our friends in real life ought to be able to do the same thing for us if they really care. Right? I think so.

So let’s all be a little more like Yolanda, fearless enough to show what she’s going through and what these diseases are really like, and strong enough to say, “Hey, if you don’t get it that I really am struggling with this, you can get out!” Because having someone around who accuses you of faking the one thing that has become the center of your life no matter how much you want to be normal is just too much. And really unnecessary. So find your inner Yolanda and kick those disbelievers and Debbie Downers to the curb! Then go out and find that something special to cuddle yourself in and start inviting those who truly care and actually get it to come to a get together and have fun.

These diseases suck, but dumping negativity and throwing a party are sure ways to up the good vibes. Any Real Housewife will tell you that!

Originally published: July 1, 2016
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