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5 Things to Keep In Mind when Helping Someone with a chronic illness

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Being sick is no fun. When you’ve got a cold or the flu, it can be exhausting to manage simple daily tasks, right? Sometimes all you want to do is crawl back into bed. Now imagine you have a chronic illness, and that feeling of exhaustion is a regular occurrence. You want to go out with friends on the weekend, get in a good run, or just go to dinner with loved ones- but your body just isn’t cooperating.

I’m sure there’s someone in your circle you’re thinking of right now who may be dealing with a chronic illness such as cancer or autoimmune disease. I’m also sure you want to help them any way you can. Believe me, when you’re dealing with a chronic illness, you appreciate the people who reach out to help. However, sometimes people try so hard to help it can be overwhelming, & actually cause more stress, not less. I know that’s never anyone’s intention, so here are a few suggestions I’ve gathered from friends in my community on how to approach the difficult days a friend or family member may be going through:

  1. The first thing to remember about someone else’s illness is that IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. This seems to be a hard one, especially for the people we rely on most. We appreciate the check-ins, but sometimes we may not feel up to long conversations.

    Please also keep in mind that what a person cares to share about their illness is UP TO THEM. Pestering someone for information is rude. (YEs, it seems obvious, but it happens.) Again, it’s not about you. There’s no need to take offense in someone wanting to keep something private.

  2. Please don’t compare one person’s illness to another’s. No two people are the same. EVEN IF two people have the same diagnosis, it doesn’t make their experience or illness identical. Telling your friend with stage III breast cancer how your great uncle on your mom’s side beat prostate cancer is not really helpful. Same goes for comparing my autoimmune fatigue to your hangover from last weekend. Sometimes just being there, listening, and realizing your presence and support does more than trying to reassure us about something we may not even be sure about.

  3. Be flexible if you’re offering your time. It’s great that you want to spend time with us! But good days don’t always occur on your day off. Maybe we’ve had a bad flare up, we’re struggling to get dressed, or are in pain and just want to rest. Illnesses don’t follow a schedule. Symptoms can be mild one day, horrific the next- and how we feel may not be physically visible to you. Be understanding that we don’t always have control over how we feel, no matter how we appear to you on the outside..

  4. Please don’t give out medical advice. Once I went to the ER, and a friend was convinced she could cure me if I paid to join her essential oils club, despite the fact that I didn’t even have a diagnosis from my doctors.

    When you are trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on in your body, it’s not helpful to get bombarded with internet advice. Most of us dealing with chronic illness have found a medical professional we trust, and believe us, we’re working hard with them to do what’s best for us.

  5. Finally, if you don’t know what to do, ASK. We may not have the answer right away- sometimes we’re too tired to realize what would help us at the moment. But be patient, and we’ll let you know. Maybe we just need you to get the mail, or cancel an appointment. Maybe we just need someone to binge watch TV with us one afternoon. Or maybe we just need you to text us some funny memes. Just keep checking in, be there, and we’ll let you know.

Here’s to hoping everyone in your circle is doing well. But please keep in mind that we can’t always see what someone is going through. You don’t know how someone else feels, no matter how brave of a front they are putting on. Please always be respectful and kind.

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