If you have someone close to you who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness, it’s understandable that you might not know what to say or what to do at first. Maybe you’re trying to be extra cautious with your words and actions, but not too obvious or too careful because they might not want you to be acting differently just because of them.
The good thing is that being supportive and present in your loved ones can influence how they’re coping and managing their condition—both mentally and physically. According to Dr. Amy Walters, Ph.D., people who have a tight and trusted support group can help them do better in the long run.
Studies have shown that having close family and friends by their side affects how they handle their illness for as long as possible. That’s why supporting them surely helps them. Through this, they may even get a different perspective about their condition and find new hope to cope willingly.
Be a good listener
Many people who have been diagnosed with an incurable illness feel different and left out. Sometimes, they isolate themselves, maybe because they feel guilty or don’t want to bother you. They may look fine, but most chronic illnesses are invisible.
They are genuinely grateful for those who listen to their concerns and doubts and respect their decisions without any judgment. Let them speak and listen attentively to what they’re saying. Be empathetic and don’t give any advice unless they ask you to.
If you ever found out from another person that your friend or loved one is recently diagnosed with a chronic illness, wait for them to tell you themself. Don’t immediately act like you’re showering them with attention. They may still be overwhelmed and figuring out how to approach everything without getting irrational or illogical. Or they might be embarrassed by it and are still trying to adjust.
For them, they must own that information, and it’s their choice to only inform their trusted friends and family about their condition.
Learn when they need you and when they don’t
Even with a chronic illness, a person has the choice of when to socialize and when to be alone. Although, of course, you will not always be able to read their cues and figure out what they need. So, clear communication will help.
Even if you’ve studied up about their illness, it doesn’t mean you know everything. Every person is unique, and they react differently to different things. Instead of assuming, ask them what they need, when they need it, and how they need to take or do something.
Don’t overstay your welcome. It can sometimes be uncomfortable or even overbearing to them. But sometimes, they might need you to stay a little longer. Just be mindful of the time and cues they’re sending to know the best time to exit. If you feel like they’re open and honest enough, you can always communicate with them.
Also, don’t be offended when they reject your invitation or when they need you to leave. Having a chronic illness requires unique ways of management and self-care. Like other people, they are allowed to say no to invitations, even to their closest friends. Only they can fully know how they’re doing. Although, don’t stop inviting them as well. It will make them feel more isolated.
Understand that their illness is not just one thing
Living with a chronic illness is not a solo journey. It also requires a heavy load of overall energy right from the start. They have to deal with pain and a new strict lifestyle. They might not be allowed to do things they love to do or eat foods they love. This can be the beginning of something different. Understanding this can help you in supporting them.
In some cases, a chronic illness can be followed by or associated with a mental one, like depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. It can be a symptom, like insomnia or feeling disassociated. Implementing a mobile integrated healthcare system is getting more and more advanced. They prefer to treat the person through case management techniques instead of focusing on only one illness or behavioral health problem.
To be diagnosed with a chronic illness or disability can change a person’s entire life, even their family and other loved ones. Most of the time, they identify symptoms, start their treatment, and try to make changes in their lifestyle. More likely, coping with a huge emotional and mental impact of their condition. That’s why they’re going to need as much support as they can get.