I think a big struggle of being sick is finding friends who are understanding and willing to stick around when things get rough, but I know the struggle goes both ways.
When someone you care about is chronically ill, it might be hard to know what to say or what to do or what to expect. So from the perspective of someone who is chronically ill and has chronically ill friends, I understand it can be hard.
I think the first important step is educating yourself, it can be exhausting to have to repeatedly explain your illness to your friends. Whether it is explaining my Crohn’s and how it works and how it effects me, to why I can’t eat much due to my gastroparesis, to why I use a cane for my joint hypermobility. But I completely understand that it can be really hard to remember how each thing effects an individual. In cases like this, google can be a tool for you and your best friend. If your friend talks about something regarding medical that you don’t understand, google it first and then ask questions. This way you can try to understand on your own and your friend can fill in the gaps of what you don’t know, this saves us energy.
Also, do not be afraid to ask questions to get a better understanding of what they are going through, so long as they are comfortable with answering, if they don’t want to talk about it, move on to a new topic.
Find hobbies that you guys can do together that do not require much energy or effort. Some of my go to’s with friends are watching Netflix, doing our nails or doing facials, occasionally we will bake or go out if I have more energy that day. Just ask, “Hey what are you feeling up to doing today? Stay in or go out?” Try to be understanding if they are not feeling up to doing anything, in which case sometimes just coming over to keep them company, even if it’s just laying in bed or on the couch with blankets and PJs on can even help because it helps you to not feel alone.
Remember to communicate with them your concerns as well, it can be hard to know what to say so if you are worried about saying the wrong things then just let them know and if they get upset about something you say, live and learn. Eventually you will get a rhythm down.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your life and your problems as well because friendship should go both ways. It can be hard to find a balance because it’s different for everyone but just like any relationship or friendship: communication is key.
Other tips for being a good friend for someone who’s chronically ill are:
- Let them vent
- Try not to get upset with them for their limitations.
- If it has been a while since you guys have talked just shoot them a message to let them know you haven’t forgotten about them.
- Don’t abandon them during hard times.
- If you can go to the hospital to visit them if they are there for long periods of time.
- Try to keep things light hearted unless your friend needs to be serious for a while.
- Offer to help your friend with things from time to time.
- Advocate for them and help support them and raise awareness.
Some things you should avoid are:
- Do not abandon your friend when you find out they are sick.
- Avoid jokes about their illnesses, unless they are comfortable with it.
- Don’t compare your issues to their issues. It’s not a competition and everyone suffers differently. The time you got food poisoning doesn’t mean much in comparison to their chronic digestive issues.
- Don’t tell them to suck it up or that others have it worse.
- Don’t get onto them for complaining, because it is hard to not complain when you are constantly feeling awful.
- Try to avoid telling your friend how they should feel on a matter. They may get a good test result and be upset because despite the good test results, there isn’t an answer for why they still feel awful so they are upset. Don’t tell them they should be happy they couldn’t find anything.
- Avoid Dr. Oz or Facebook cure all remedies, weird herbal supplements, yoga, witchcraft rituals, etc. Chances are whatever it is, it probably will not help more than what the doctor proscribes.
- Don’t say, “God will heal you.” Because that’s not how any of this works. And that may not fall under their religious preferences.
- Never downplay their feelings or insinuate that they are faking their illness.
It takes time to adjust, so don’t feel bad if you’ve done these things in the past, or if you slip up every once in a while, because nobody is perfect. Again, communication is key. It can be really hard to be chronically ill, having a great friend for support and companionship can make all the difference.