Do you have a friend who struggles with chronic illness?
If this is a good friend, you probably want to do everything in your power to help alleviate some of the pain and suffering. But you feel helpless.
Chronic illnesses can range from inconvenient to debilitating, but they always have the potential to interfere with a person’s quality of life.
But the truth is that you’re not helpless.
You can’t take away someone’s struggle, but there are some ways you can share the burden. Even small things can make a big difference in someone’s life.
Here are a few ways you can help a friend who is struggling with a chronic illness.
- Regular check-ins
When someone has a chronic illness, they’re more likely to isolate themselves, especially when things get rough. That’s why it’s a good idea to get in the habit of doing regular check-ins with your friend.
If nothing else, this sends the message that you care about your friend’s wellbeing. And that little bit of knowledge can go a long way towards improving someone’s mood or outlook.
- Practice active listening
A chronic illness can really put someone through the wringer. Don’t pretend to know what your friend is going through. And don’t try to solve all his or her problems. Just be there to listen and try to understand. Most of the time, that’s all any of us need.
Often, well-meaning friends will turn the conversation towards themselves to try to identify with their friends. This isn’t helpful because you actually can’t identify with your friend’s struggle unless you have the same chronic illness and symptoms.
Even two people with the same chronic illness can have extremely different symptoms and severity, so be careful about making comparisons.
- Become an advocate
If this a close friend, you may want to get involved at a deeper level. Just be sure to talk with your friend, so you know that your involvement is welcome. Otherwise, it could cause some tension between you.
When you get the green light, start researching the illness and its symptoms. So many chronic illnesses come with pain as the main symptom, and there may be more treatments out there than their doctor is recommending. Once you have a good understanding of what’s available, you can recommend alternative treatments for chronic pain and other ailments.
- Stay flexible
You may not understand what it’s like to live with a chronic illness, but you can understand that every day is a new adventure. Your friend may experience days when he or she can’t get out of bed, never mind make it to your movie date.
Understandably, it’s frustrating when someone constantly cancels plans, but try to be understanding. If your friend made plans, he or she actually wants to follow through. But all too often, chronic illness gets in the way. Instead of getting frustrated, try to show empathy for your friend. They aren’t trying to ruin your day. They’re just trying to get through theirs as best they can.
- Offer words of encouragement
Your friend may have times when he or she need to complain about a given situation. And as a good friend, you may be tempted to commiserate. Don’t.
This is another great opportunity to practice active listening. Acknowledge that you understand it’s a tough situation. But then get straight to building your friend back up. This is your most important job as a friend of someone with a chronic illness.
This is a great time to tell your friend how proud you are of his or her accomplishments. Talk about situations where they overcame their limitations, and how amazing that must have felt.
If they’ve done great things before (however big or small) despite their illness, they can do them again.
If you really want to help your friend who is struggling with a chronic illness, understand that you are playing a supportive role. Don’t make their struggles about you and offer help where you can. Your friend will surely appreciate the effort.