Living with chronic illness can often feel lonely and isolating. Whether it is cancer, Lyme disease, Lupus or any number of the hundreds of thousands of life long illnesses in existence today- chronic illness can hinder the ability to socialize in a normal setting. With 133 million Americans now living with a chronic illness (National Health Council) chances are, you know someone with a lifelong illness.
While the chronically ill are experiencing a new kind of compassion from their “healthy” peers due to the isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to expand on five ways to support your chronically ill friend:
1. Do not put pressure on them to attend all social events. Even if it’s just meeting for a casual cup of coffee, those living with chronic illness often experience chronic fatigue and exhaustion from the faintest exertion of energy. The chronically ill have to pick and choose where they spend their “spoons” and know that leaving the house for an afternoon may leave them bedridden for 48 hours post activity- with no warning. Be kind and understand that when a friend cancels plans, they wanted to see you just as badly as you wanted to see them. Having to miss out on traditional social events is disappointing for them too.
2. Don’t stop checking in on them. Chronic illness often impacts mental health, and your chronically ill friend just may need space to work through their current emotions or latest health barrier. If they do not return your call or text right away, do not give up on them. Sending a short text consistently to “just check in” can mean more than you know.
3. Be willing to spend time together at home. As we discussed in point one, leaving the house even for the shortest time, can spend your chronically ill friend of what little energy they may have. Offer to meet them at their home for coffee, tea or a movie. Taking travel out of the equation may mean that you get to see your chronically ill friend more- resulting in more quality time together. A win-win!
4. Do not relate to their pain if you have never experienced it personally. Every chronically ill patient has heard the offhanded “I had a cold once- I know how you feel!” While you may be attempting to relate to their pain and ease their mind, it may have the opposite effect. Chronically ill patients can live with enormous amounts of pain day to day as well as other debilitating symptoms. Next time, try listening to what they are struggling with and validating their physical and emotional trials.
5. Do not tell them that they “look fine.” Those living with chronic illness know this is meant as a compliment- however, just because they look good, does not mean they feel good internally. Many who look “fine” have difficulty being taken seriously by the medical community, resulting in years of confusion and suffering (this is why, at Case Integrative Health, we do not judge a book by it’s cover and take ALL symptoms seriously.) They appreciate that you are being supportive, but your chronically ill friend may feel that their illness is being dismissed.