I’m really glad you’re reading this. Thank you for taking an interest in your friend and being willing to learn more about the crippling effects of chronic illness on their life.
There’s so much your friend wants you to know but probably won’t tell you. It could be because it’s awkward. How do you tell someone that you experience extreme pain every day, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional, and not seem like you’re just complaining or wanting attention.
Being chronically ill, I have experienced many years of being unable to explain myself. For most of that time, I had no idea what was going on. And, honestly, the pre-diagnosis years of suffering were full of unexplainable highs and lows that left me blaming myself. I thought that I must have been doing something wrong to feel the way I did.
Once my condition became bad enough that I realized a better sleep schedule, some exercise, and a healthy diet wouldn’t fix it, I had to start digging to get to the bottom of what had been causing such grief. Finding out I had chronic Lyme Disease and co-infections was actually a blessing because then I could begin a treatment regimen. It also gave me an explanation to share with others, because previously I had just thought I was crazy.
If your friend suffers from a chronic illness, they need you!
They need people who care about them to be there in both the good times and the bad.
Here are some things you could do to be a better source of support for your chronically ill friend as they walk through life:
1. Believe them
This should be obvious, but, sadly, sometimes it’s not. If your friend has a chronic illness, please believe them. Believe the symptoms they say they have. Just affirming that you recognize that they are struggling means a lot to someone who’s living life with an illness that may be invisible to the outside world.
2. Ask questions
One of the best ways to better understand your friend’s struggle is to ask questions. Ask them what symptoms they experience and what makes them better or worse. Ask what treatment they do. Ask how they’re feeling emotionally about it all. Ask, and then be willing to listen to the answers.
3. Find out what they need
This goes along with asking questions. It would be helpful to ask your friend what tasks are hardest for them to complete with your chronic illness. Perhaps ask their other friends or family members what they have noticed your friend needs. Observe your friend’s life to try to find out what they need and then find a way to help them with it.
4. Spend time with them on their terms
One of the most frustrating things about having a chronic illness is that it can limit one’s ability to do normal social activities. Your friend is still a human being who needs social interaction, but having to go out and about may be too difficult. Go to them, but only if they’re up for it. Be really good about communicating with them to figure out what they actually need.
Suffering from a chronic illness can strip pieces of your friend’s personality from them, so even if they used to be outgoing, they may prefer to be alone at times. They also might not have the energy to talk, and if you come over they’ll exert all that they have stored up. If they want to hang out, be there for them in a way that accommodates their needs.
5. Be understanding
I don’t think anyone feels good about having to cancel plans, but it feels even worse when you have to do it for the 10th time. If you make plans with your friend and they cancel over and over again, try your best to be understanding. Your friend genuinely cares about you, but trying to balance the illness with anything else can be a struggle. Try to see the best in your friend because they are doing the best that they can.
6. Don’t assume that everyone with that illness is the same
Humans like to generalize. We like to compare something we don’t know to something that’s familiar. It makes it easier to understand. However, with chronic illness, it’s important to be aware that every situation is different. Even if you know or have heard of someone else who suffers from the same illness, don’t assume that those cases will be the same.
It’s hard being chronically ill and hearing others talk about how this person they know got better really quickly or that person they know used some treatment that worked for them. More education can be beneficial, but when “success stories” are offered without care and understanding for my individual situation, I feel that my pain isn’t being validated and that the other person isn’t recognizing the extent of the grief I feel.
Each person’s body responds to treatment differently, so I’d rather hear that someone is there for me instead of have them throw out a new measuring stick of comparison from which to judge my progress.
7. Be consistent
Those with chronic illnesses can have a hard time keeping friendships. Not feeling up to going out can put a damper on their social life. If you are their friend, be a consistent friend. Even if they don’t reply to every text message, check in with them to see how they are doing. If you generally meet up with them, keep doing it. Let them know that you are there for them by both your words and your actions.
8. Be supportive of their significant other or family
Your chronically ill friend’s significant other or family likely has the biggest burden to carry as they care for your friend. It isn’t easy to care for someone who is dealing with severe pain. The roller coaster of emotions your friend is dealing with can be a lot for a loved one to handle. Connect with your friend’s significant other or family to see what they need. Maybe try to spend extra time with your friend so that their loved ones can have a small break to be refreshed. Chronic illness doesn’t just affect the person who is sick. It affects those closest to them.
9. Offer spiritual support
Pray for your friend and for their significant other or family. As a Christian, it means a lot to me when I hear that others are praying for me during times of need. Because of their illness, it may be difficult for your friend to make it to church or Bible study. If that’s the case, bring a mini Bible study to them. I have a great friend who offered to do a devotional with me. Sometimes we spend time talking about what God had been teaching us and praying together when she comes over. It means a lot to have people who care for my spiritual well-being.
If you’re unsure how to pray for your friend who is suffering from a chronic illness, read this post. I’d love to help walk you through how to pray bold, specific prayers so that you can support and encourage them during this journey!