Chronic illnesses such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, diabetes, mental disease, chronic fatigue, lupus etc. are more and more widespread in Western societies. I don’t want to talk about their causes and treatments today. There are many articles about it already. I want to talk TO friends and families of people who suffer from those conditions. Might be nice is a doctor or two read this article too … I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and chronic back pain and one thing I can say from my own experience is that the biggest obstacle I faced is not being understood and feeling lonely in my pain.
I know many people have good intention but please, never , EVER tell a person battling chronic illness:
1. “It’s all in your head”. The pain is real and just because doctors can’t find the cause it doesn’t mean we’re not hurting.
2. “You shouldn’t be reading so much about it ’cause that’s why you’re feeling so sick” (different take on number 1) .We read AFTER we’ve suffered for quite some time to try to find help and solution, not the other way around. Empowerment comes from knowledge.
3. “But you look so good, so you can’t be that sick!” One of the ways we’re dealing with feeling sick is trying to live as normal life as possible, which also means looking as good as we can, by putting on fresh set of nice clothes, getting our hair done and putting on makeup. It’s survival.
4. “You’re just not doing enough; you should ….. (list of things that will ‘surely help’) “.We’ve been there, done that; we’ve tried so many possible options, from conventional medicine to holistic approach and sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Don’t assume we’re just sitting on our butts feeling sorry for ourselves. We WANT to get better.
5. “Anything is possible. I’ve read about Mr. X who cured himself from cancer. Why can’t you? Surely your illness is not worse than cancer?”. Sure, it sounds encouraging but after months and year of trying to get better, it’s doesn’t sound that true anymore. We just need a wee bit of a break from trying to ‘fix’ ourselves. We’re tired.
What would the REAL support be then?
1. You may not understand what we’re going through but be there for us to hold us when we cry from pain and helplessness. Often staying silent in an embrace is the best help possible.
2. Praise us for our efforts. Going for a walk may sound simple to you, but it’s a huge accomplishment for someone who has low energy levels and struggles to get our of bed each morning.
3. Help out with daily tasks. It may be hard for us to ask for help, so we do those daily chores despite pain, tiredness and discomfort. Do the dishes. Cook us dinner. Vacuum the floors. Babysit our children. And don’t ask for anything in return.
4. Listen. Talking is not always necessary. Sometimes we just need to let out all those emotions that accompany chronic illness. Know to “speak only when your words improve the silence”.
5. Educate yourself on our illness. That shows caring and compassion. And we would not have to explain to you 10 times a day why we feel the way we feel and why we can’t go to the movies. Again. Talking about problems gives power to the problems. Let us concentrate on positive thoughts about our health.
6. Accept us and love us just the way we are. With the illness, with feeling down and discouraged, with complaining and not being able to do things that we used to love and enjoy. By accepting us you help us accept ourselves in this moment in time. And sometimes the greatest power can come from letting go of the struggle and accepting the here and now. When you stop fighting what is, you make room for the miracles. That’s when solutions for healing appear and we can finally get better.
[by Lorelai I. Dali ]