Handling Friends When You Have A Chronic Illness

This blog was originally published on WikiHow.

Living with a chronic illness can be difficult and lonely. Finding social support is one of the best ways to cope with being ill, but unfortunately, some friends just have a way of disappearing or being unhelpful after they find out about your illness. Although unsupportive friends can bring you down, you can learn to cope by helping your real friends understand how they can be there for you. Build yourself a solid support network by reaching out to the people you already know, meeting new friends, and taking good care of your physical and mental health along the way.

Talking to Loved Ones About Your Illness

Educate your loved ones about your illness. Your friends and family will be able to support you better if they understand what you are going through. Find a few high-quality websites, books, or other sources of information about your illness and share them with the people in your life.
◦ Consider talking with loved ones individually, in small groups, and on social media. Start by speaking with friends and family in person before you move on to less formal forms of communication.
◦ You might sit down together and do a basic Google search about your condition. Communicate the symptoms you experience, explain what treatments you are undergoing, and the prognosis of your condition.
◦ Encourage questions. You might say, “Terry, we’ve been friends for a long time, and I don’t want things to be awkward because of my diagnosis. Is there anything you want to ask me about the disease?”

Invite friends to doctor’s appointments. Getting more information about your condition can give both you and your friends a peace of mind. Suggest that they accompany you to doctor’s visits and specialist appointments to learn more about your illness and how they can help.
◦ Your loved ones may also be able to help by catching information that you might miss due to nervousness or being distracted.
◦ In addition to speaking with medical professionals, you and your friends can also participate in support groups for people with your condition. Speaking with others who have your illness can help you know what to expect and also get advice about how others can support you.

Tell your friends what you need from them. Your friends may want to support you, but not know how. If you wish that someone would give you a hand with something, ask. You’ll get the help you need, and your friends will feel better about knowing exactly what to do for you.
◦ Consider asking a friend to pick up groceries for you, help you with chores around the house, take your kids to the park so you can rest, or just sit and talk with you for a while. Make a list of the things you are struggling to get done. If someone asks what they can do to help, give them one of the tasks.

Take the initiative when friends disappear. When managing your friendships, you can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself when friends aren’t calling you back or never coming around. They may just not know what to say to you or how to help. Reach out to them and break the ice.
◦ Call up a friend who has been a no-show and make a light-hearted joke. Say something like “Geez, Rebecca, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, not cooties. It’s not contagious. I would love to see your face more often!”

Handling Your Friends’ Reactions

Understand that your friends’ lack of support isn’t personal. You might feel hurt or angry if your friends go MIA, but their behavior says more about them than it does about you. Your friends may not know what to say to you, or they might find it too difficult to see you suffering.
◦ Seeing a friend come down with a chronic illness is hard for many people because it reminds them that anybody can get sick. People may disappear from your life because they don’t want to think about their own health and mortality.
◦ Some of your friends might feel awkward around you because they don’t know how to act anymore. If they’re afraid of saying something wrong, they might start avoiding you altogether. Also, some people inaccurately assume that you want space while you are coming to terms with your diagnosis. Particularly if you have been less present socially due to pain or illness.

Stand up for yourself when people say insensitive things. If a friend says something that hurts your feelings, don’t hesitate to tell them how it affects you. Putting a stop to tactless jokes right away will make your friends less likely to say similar things in the future. If your friend cares about you, they will apologize and speak more carefully next time.
◦ Be direct. Say something like, “That’s pretty hurtful to me. I’d rather you didn’t joke about that.”
◦ Be aware that your friend is probably not being intentionally hurtful. They may be making a poor attempt at humor because they don’t know what to say.

Revise your expectations. Not everyone will be capable of giving you the same degree of support, but don’t let this keep you from asking. Just be understanding if they can’t make something work. Don’t assume they do not have time for you. If a friend can’t be there for you all the time but still makes an effort to keep in touch and help you out occasionally, let them know you appreciate them.
◦ You might say, “I know we used to spend more time together, and I’m not physically able to go out as much. I really appreciate how flexible you have been to still hang out with me.”