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7 Ways To Be A Good Friend To Someone With A Chronic Illness

I’ve been living with a chronic illness for almost 3 years now. Although it has led to some extremely difficult times, one thing that has helped me cope has been support from my wonderful friends.

It can be hard to know what to say or do to help a friend with a chronic illness. You may feel helpless, but even small acts of support can have a positive impact. Here are a few things, based on my personal experience, that you can do to be a good friend to someone with a chronic illness:

1. Listen

Chronic illnesses are mentally tough. Although you can’t fix the emotions I’m dealing with, you can help a lot by actively listening and letting me vent when I need to. Don’t worry about saying the perfect thing in response — usually, “I’m sorry you’re dealing with that and I’m here to listen” is all I need.

2. Acknowledge my illness, don’t avoid it

Sometimes friends may be uncomfortable mentioning my illness in conversation or asking about my symptoms, because they’re worried about saying the wrong thing. But the reality is, my illness is real and affects me 24/7, so I don’t have the luxury of pretending it doesn’t exist. Rather than rushing to change the subject when I bring up my illness, acknowledge its existence and learn to be comfortable with it.

3. Ask questions

While no one wants their entire identity to be centered around their chronic illness, my illness is a big part of who I am. When friends ask genuine questions, I feel like that part of me is being acknowledged. It means so much when a friend takes the time to learn about my illness. I also appreciate it when friends research my illness and educate themselves on their own; it shows me that they care and want to learn what I’m dealing with.

4. Understand when I cancel plans

When it comes to socializing, my illness presents some obstacles. Sometimes, I agree to attend an event, but when the day comes around, I am so tired or in so much pain that I have to cancel. I feel extremely guilty for this and sometimes embarrassed. The best thing you can do is be understanding and support me for putting my health first.

5. Understand that I may need adjustments, and do what you can to accommodate

My closest friends know that when we go out, I may need to walk more slowly, take breaks to sit down, or head home early. They never make me feel like a burden or an inconvenience for needing these things. Other friends offer to lift heavy items for me — don’t be afraid to offer help if you think it is useful. These small accommodations make a big difference.

6. Avoid giving common, useless advice

Friends often feel a strong urge to help their friends and make everything better. This is natural. But unfortunately, chronic illnesses are chronic. Trust me — I have tried Advil, yoga, and diet restrictions. Even when intentions are good, offering advice like this can come off as insensitive and make it appear that you don’t understand the severity of my illness.

7. Support and love me through all of the ups and downs

Sometimes, all the painkillers and heating pads in the world can’t compare to the support of a good friend. Having a chronic illness affects my self-worth and self-esteem — please remind me that I am an important friend to you, with or without an illness. Listen to me and acknowledge me. Be patient with me on my bad days and supportive on my good days. As a friend, you have the power to make a living with a chronic illness feel a little less lonely.

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