In my experience, most people do not know how to respond to someone that has a long term illness. They feel like nothing they do is going to help the situation. To compound this, the person who is sick is waiting on someone to help but doesn’t know how to ask. This is a vicious cycle that leads to the isolation most people with chronic illness experience and ends with broken relationships.
With that being said, there are always those fly by night “friends” who only want you during the good times. But the vast majority of people are not that way and would help if they knew what was needed.
7 things you can do to help someone with chronic illness:
- Listen! This is absolutely the most important one. If you ask us how we are, please listen to the answer. I have literally had someone cut me off mid-sentence by saying, “good”, even though I was telling them something that wasn’t good. Not only was it rude it made me feel worse than if they hadn’t asked. If you are not prepared to listen to the answer then don’t ask the question.
- Talk to us about something besides our illness! Another important one. We live, eat, breathe and sleep our illness. Sometimes it is just nice to talk about something else. It will be a refreshing change and an instant mood booster.
- Don’t get upset if we have to cancel at the last minute. Many chronic illness symptoms are unpredictable and making plans is something of a nightmare. Believe me, we desperately want to get out of the house and have some fun and are much more upset at ourselves than you probably are. Just kindly reschedule and keep inviting us.
- Communicate! I realize that the phone works both ways but we often worry about bothering people. Please reach out to us if you haven’t heard from us in a while. Don’t worry about catching us at a bad moment because those are actually the times when we need you the most. Text or call but please communicate with us.
- Tell us about the good things in your life. Life with chronic illness is pretty mundane and often upsetting. Hearing about the good things in your life will be a pleasure. I am not going to lie and say we aren’t a little envious but we don’t want others to stop living just because our pace has changed. We want to celebrate with you!
- Ask what we need. This one seems simple but it is difficult on both sides. You probably think that if we need anything we would just ask. We won’t. In fact, we will probably say we don’t need anything when you do ask. Be specific! “I am going to the grocery store and will be riding by your house. Do you need me to pick something up for you?” I know I would probably ask for an oatmeal raisin cookie from the bakery! 😉
- Do not offer treatment advice. We realize that your uncle’s wife’s cousin’s best friend knows someone that used (insert treatment here) and their symptoms went away and life went back to normal. That is awesome! It is perfectly fine to ask us questions about our treatment plan but offering other treatments is just not helpful.
These are some suggestions that might help you know what to do when someone you know has a chronic illness. Do you know of any others that might work too?