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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AnkylosingSpondylitis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Lisa Marie Basile moderator
    1 week ago

    Ah, this is so helpful. Thank you. I really liked the, “Acknowledge my illness, don’t avoid it” point, because I think a lot of people ignore it, like an elephant, when you think about it 99% of your day. Imagine! I want friends who say, “your back ok?” if they see me fidgeting, or “it’s cool if you’re tired” and mean it. Little things. I’m gonna share this tomorrow!

  • Cassia Pelton moderator author
    6 days ago

    I hope if you share this, your friends read it and take the advice!

    Yes, AS is a constant presence in my life so it’s hard when other people act like it’s a “sometimes” thing or doesn’t exist at all.

    I like what you said about your friends actually “meaning it” when they say something. I do have some friends who ask about my pain but I can tell it’s just a fleeting thought because they move on to another topic as soon as I respond.

  • ngraham
    1 week ago

    My favourite advice is “hot showers” will help with the pain and stiffness”. Hmm I think I have tried that in the 27 years I have had AS and certainly before I took morphine for the pain. Not to mention a shower is a whole day’s worth of energy!

  • Lisa Marie Basile moderator
    1 week ago

    HA! It is funny, really, the ridiculousness. I am sure they think it’s helpful, but it’s not. It’s like giving someone with pneumonia a lemon tea. Sure, it’s nice, but it’s not medication or proper help. They certainly wouldn’t do that, would they?

  • Cassia Pelton moderator author
    6 days ago

    I agree with you both. A hot shower can be nice, but unfortunately won’t “fix” me. I’m not sure why some people assume we haven’t already tried everything… I will take my doctor’s advice, but that’s it, thanks.

  • Lisa Marie Basile moderator
    2 weeks ago

    I love this! Thank you. “Don’t avoid it” and “don’t give useless advice,” are two pieces of advice that REALLY need to be heeded. I’m confused by people’s reactions (or lack thereof). It’s like, “do you think I DIDN’T think to try vitamins?” haha. It’s almost silly if it weren’t so annoying.

  • Lawrence "Rick" Phillips moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Sending money gets points as well. 🙂

    This is a wonderful list.

  • Lisa Marie Basile moderator
    1 week ago

    I’ve never asked for money, and frankly I might be uncomfortable with that, at least right now, but I definitely can see how throwing a friend who is suffering some help would be lovely.

  • Cassia Pelton moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Haha, I should add that to the list! Cooking for me also doesn’t hurt. Thanks for reading.

  • Lisa Marie Basile moderator
    1 week ago

    Ooh, cooking is a good one. A dinner with a friend — and they make it on your flare-up days? I love it.

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