A select number of family members and friends have been integral to my well-being and sanity since I was diagnosed with lupus in 2001. I’ve realized over the years that some people are truly compassionate and helpful, and will put in the effort to maintain a friendship. While every relationship takes effort, having a family member or friend with chronic illness sometimes requires an extra dose of effort.
So, if you are one of those amazing people who understand the hiccups that come with a friend who has a chronic illness, let me first say “thank you.” And, if you have ever thought to yourself, “What can I do to help her/him?” I want to suggest a few options.
I’ve actually had quite a number of people ask me this question. So, I give them very specific answer. You see, years ago I tried to do everything on my own. But then a horrendous flare ensued that lasted-a-year-and-a-half. A few small strokes, some heart issues and more than a dozen hospitalizations, and I landed in a wheelchair for a year unable to care for myself — unable to do simple tasks I once took for granted, like showering and feeding myself. With all independence out the window, I had to become okay with accepting help.
It actually was a great lesson, and today I have no fear asking someone to help me when I need it. And true friends will offer that help when they can.
And for that, we are grateful.
3 tips to support a friend or family member who has a chronic illness
1. Show up: Something about my strongest friendships that I adore is when someone reaches out to me, and says they would like to come over and just spend some time with me. It is that understanding that I may be too sick to go out, or not have enough energy to shower, get dressed and leave my home for hours, that is crucial. So, my friends and I often will make a cup of tea and sit on my patio.
We may dive into a variety of topics, or say nothing at all. Those actually are the moments that mean the world to me. In those moments, I am reminded of Job in the Bible. Job suffered so much at one point that his friends came and just sat with him in silence to show their support. Sometimes our suffering is so great, there are no words that can make it better. But support, love and the gentle “I get it” glance of someone you love can be worth a thousand words.
2. Offer an act of service: There have been times I needed a ride to a doctor’s appointment, help getting groceries, or getting a nutritious meal into my stomach. One of the most thoughtful things my friends can do is send me a text saying, “I’m at the grocery store. What can I grab for you?” or “I’m off next Friday; do you want me to come over and bring lunch/help you with errands?” We may not ask you for anything, but sometimes just knowing someone cares enough to put themselves out there is enough.
3. Recognize silence and be understanding: Sometimes I am so sick that if I brush my teeth and go down the stairs to get food, I’ve accomplished something. And in those seasons, I have a tendency to withdraw. This happens often with people who have chronic illness. It isn’t because we are trying to be aloof or unresponsive to texts, calls or emails. It is literally because we barely have enough energy to keep our head above water.
In the past, I’ve had people get angry because I didn’t respond for a while; sometimes I would learn these individuals were incapable of understanding chronic illness and how erratic it is. Those friendships didn’t last long. But the people who do understand often will send a text or leave a voicemail that says something to the effect of: “You probably aren’t feeling well this week. I’m here – call me if you need something or just want someone to be there with you.” There is such relief in that one little statement. It tells me someone cares, I am loved, and someone is concerned they haven’t heard from me. It offers a positive moment in the often negative experience of being ill.
These are a few ways you can help someone that has a chronic illness. I would love to hear ways you have helped someone who is sick. Or, if you live with a chronic illness, what is the most caring action someone has done on your behalf?
Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.