If you ask someone who has a chronic illness how they’re doing, chances are they will answer with sometimes along the lines of, “I’m fine” or, “I’m OK.” I can tell you with confidence that they may not be be “fine” or “OK.” They don’t want to mislead you, but it can be difficult to be vulnerable about being sick because that answer typically does not change day after day. Many, including myself, feel like they are a burden to those around them, and it is easier to continue to put on that “I’m OK” face than to admit that life is hard and the pain continues to be too much to handle.
As someone who struggles with multiple chronic illnesses, I have dealt with many emotions when it comes to telling people how I’m actually doing. Most times I start with only mentioning a few things that hurt, or a few emotions I’m dealing with, to gauge the waters on how receptive the listener is to my pain. I’m always worrying that they are tired of hearing about my disease and just want me to stop sharing, and that definitely contributes to why I tend to not to share as much as I want to. After sharing with people, I have many people tell me over and over, “I wish that I could do something, but I just don’t know what would help you.” Most times I don’t know what to tell them either.
As someone with a chronic illness, my heart wishes so desperately that I did not have to feel like a hindrance on the friendships or relationships I have. I sometimes need others to express love, effort, and patience, in a creative way. As much as I hate it, I can understand that many get tired of hearing of my aches and pains, my struggles with treatments and side effects, and how broke and lonely I am from it all. But for those of you that stay and listen, you are the real deal and the champions of loving me selflessly. You will never know the impact of what it means to those that are deep in the trenches of this fight, but know that you are right in there with them.
2. Learn all you can about their disease/condition. Have you spent time reading about what they go through each day so that you can better understand? Is there a documentary that you can watch with them to help show them that you care and want to be educated on their condition? It goes an incredibly long way when you can work hard to learn the basics and be able to ask informed questions about how they are doing. Maybe even offer to attend their next doctor’s appointment or treatment with them, depending on how comfortable they are with that.
3. Plan an event with them in mind. I know in my daily life, I miss being able to spend time with people that I care about and participate in activities that now would put my pain over the edge. There are many things I am unable to do because of my disease, and many time I feel left out because of it. As a friend or family member of someone with a chronic disease, find out the activities that they can enjoy and make an evening out of it. Whether that’s an evening movie night or a quiet picnic in the park, any sort of planned event that they are able to enjoy will be cherished. And a special note that when asking those with chronic illnesses to an event -please never take it personally when they cancel. They cannot control their pain levels that day, and if they are canceling on something they are looking forward to, then the pain is more than you can imagine.
4. Offer to buy groceries or supplements. When I think about my daily struggle with my disease, finances top the list. Every extra cent that my husband and I have goes directly towards treatment, tests, supplements, and a specific diet catered to my body’s needs. Eating organic and taking over 20 supplements a day adds up quickly, and it has taken a huge burden off my shoulders when someone has offered to buy groceries for a day,or to buy my month of probiotics so that I had one less item on my list. I understand that not everyone has the financial means to give, but if you do, this can be so helpful.
I hope that some of these suggestions give you a guiding point that goes past asking how to help, but by also being able to take that step and love on that person in your life that is hurting. A strong support system is crucial to the healing process, and sometimes being that support can be confusing and difficult, since many times there doesn’t seem like options are out there that will help them. At the end of the day, just the fact that you’re there, you’re listening, and you are loving them through it is enough.