Chronic Illness: Comforting Loved Ones Going Through It

If you have a loved one with a chronic illness, you want to be supportive and encouraging, but might not know where to start. It’s difficult to understand what your loved one is going through, and you don’t want to end up making them feel worse despite your best efforts. Sometimes what we see as supportive can cause a person with a chronic illness to feel guilt or shame about their condition. It’s important to understand that people with chronic diseases want the same things that everyone else wants. They want to live a life on their own terms, find love and be accepted.

Support from friends and family can be just as crucial to a person’s physical and mental well-being as medical care. If someone you know is living with a chronic illness, they need you more than they let on–but there is a right way to go about providing them comfort. If you want to be a good friend or a supportive family member but aren’t sure how, check out these seven ways experts recommend will help provide comfort to the person.

1. Listen

It can be easy to want to give your loved one advice, talk to them about cures or be critical of their coping mechanisms. If someone with a chronic illness wants to talk, don’t make the conversation all about you or relate with examples from your life. Focusing on your opinions can have the unintended consequence of marginalizing their challenge, pain or victory. Don’t try to fit their shoes – just try to be as supportive as you can.

Sometimes your loved one just needs a supportive ear. It’s hard living in a world where most people don’t share your day-to-day reality and having someone who is willing to listen can be a mighty tool. This is a practical and straightforward way to support a person with a chronic illness that you care about and can offer more help than you realize.

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2. Check In

It can be hard for people with a chronic illness to reach out to friends and family, which can make staying in touch more challenging. This happens when a person’s life changes so much that they have a harder time relating to others. Reach out to the person in your life who is living with a chronic illness through a text, email, Facebook or a quick phone call. Even if you don’t have much to say, just letting them know you are thinking of them and that you care can mean the world.

3. Learn About the Illness

You may have never heard of your loved one’s chronic or invisible illness before they were diagnosed. Understanding it better can help you understand their journey better. As such, you can make it easier for both of you by taking the time to research the condition and gain a basic understanding of their medical condition. You can also connect with resources providing information about new ways to treat the disease. You will be a much better person in their support system if you know what triggers flares, warning signs of complications and how symptoms usually present.

This knowledge will empower you to have better communication with your loved one, understand their coping strategies and support their treatment. However, be careful not to use what you’ve learned to lecture them on what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Your loved one already knows everything there is to know about their illness and needs your support, not direction.

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4. Be Flexible

The relationship dynamic that you originally developed with this person is going to change now that they have a chronic illness. You might not be able to continue certain activities you used to share, like going out for drinks, dancing and hiking. Your friend may not feel like being active or interacting with large groups of people when they are feeling bad or experiencing symptoms. Be flexible enough to enjoy downtime or quiet evenings in, playing a board game or watching a movie. It’s not what you do with your loved one that counts. It’s being there to support them through their chronic illness that will make your relationship stronger than ever.

5. Encourage Rather Than Pity

Living with a chronic illness can be difficult on a daily basis, and it can be hard for us to handle emotionally when we see the person we care about in pain. If you sense that your loved one is having a hard day or feeling down, offer them encouragement rather than pity. Lead by example and try to practice positivity that day and eliminate negative talk. Sadness and depression can be challenging to support, but encouragement and a positive outlook is more helpful than pity.

6. Don’t Get Frustrated

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It’s difficult not to get frustrated when a loved one is in pain and at the mercy of outside forces. Seemingly out of the blue they can become distant, angry, emotionally needy or sad. Their reactions might not be as rational as they would be under different circumstances, so don’t lose your cool or get frustrated when times get tough. Your good intentions won’t always be met with the reaction you expect. Know that pain can bring out difficult qualities in people and be as calm and understanding as you can be.

7. Be There Long-Term

The definition of the word “chronic” is long-lasting, persistent and constantly recurring. Your loved one isn’t likely to shake this illness anytime soon and they are going to need you to be there for the long haul. As hard as it is to deal with your loved one’s low energy, constant doctors’ appointments and different attitudes, it is even more difficult for them. They will need regular encouragement, support and love – forever. They need your understanding that they are going to have to fight this – forever.

Being there for the long haul is the most important thing you can do for your friend or family member who is living with a chronic disease like pulmonary fibrosis. Let them know that through their good days and bad days, you aren’t going anywhere.

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