How to Support a Friend Struggling with Chronic Illness

A chronic illness is a disease that lasts three months or more. Under this umbrella there are many illnesses including mental and autoimmune diseases, cancer, and more.

I have spent the majority of this year in the hospital battling a chronic illness, I know first-hand how difficult it is to fight a war that is seemingly endless.

Chronic illness though not rare, for some holds a stigma. People are unsure how to be there for their friend as they spend hours in waiting rooms searching for answers.

As the seas are raging, too often people sail away looking for calmer waters, forgetting that their sick friend's boat is anchored in the storm.

When someone becomes ill, they lose so much and sometimes, seemingly everything. From missed school days to falling hair, the list is endless. But friends . . . friends can stick with you through thick and thin, especially if they are willing to weather the storm. Though there is so much we cannot control in illness, we can control how present we are in our sick friends' lives.

I’ve compiled a list of things that you can do to be present in your sick friend’s life, and how you can help in the simplest of ways to ensure hope is not lost.

Text

Texting for most individuals is something incredibly easy that can have a lasting impact. It allows for your friend to feel connected to you, even if they are miles away in a cold, sterile room. I always enjoyed receiving funny gifs, memes and Vine compilations, as it could all be summarized in three simple words: “thinking of you.”

Call

When someone is sick, it’s so easy for them to isolate themselves from friends and to forget what their friends’ voices sound like amid the suffering. Calling them is a gentle reminder you care, and you and your voice are present, always.

The other day, a new friend called me while I was in the depths of suffering and pulled me out. Her voice gently tugged me out of my grief and allowed for me to remember that there are people out there, cheering me on, praying for me, loving me, regardless of how alone I may feel.

Use Visiting Hours

Take advantage of visiting hours, both literally when your friend is in the hospital, and figuratively when your friend is spending time at home. Being a physical presence in someone’s life can have a beautiful impact. The hospital can get so lonely, and although you're surrounded by doctors and nurses, it is simply not the same as being surrounded by the love of a friend. Being ill often means that going out to catch up with friends is too much of a strain, so bring yourself to your friend instead. Help to alleviate the isolation by walking over to their house to sip tea with them as you talk about life.

Ask your friend how they’re doing

If you care for your friend, chances are you genuinely want to know how they are so that you can be present to support them through anything they might be going through. Let them know regardless of how they are feeling, you will be there. So many ill people believe in order to seem brave, they must remain stoic, forgetting being brave encompasses being honest.

Invite your friend to be honest with you, foster a relationship in which tears and laughter are both welcomed and met with the same levels of compassion.

Tell them about your life

People often accidentally cause their ill friends to feel even more isolated from society as they focus solely on what the ill person is facing. It’s not selfish to talk to your friend about your life, both the good and the bad. When I was in the hospital for a prolonged period of time, people stopped telling me about their lives as they worried that I would feel left out. As a consequence, I was unaware of what any of my friends were navigating and our friendships suffered as they became one-sided. Don’t be afraid to speak about your life. Just as you care for your sick friend and what they’re going through, your sick friend cares for you.

Remind them they are not a burden

When one is ill, it is so easy to feel like a burden. For a long time, being my friend wasn’t as much fun as it had been as laughter was rare. I felt like I needed to apologize for the way in which I was existing though it was beyond my control. Self-esteem can be impacted quite negatively when one is ill, but you have the power to build your friend up again, to remind them their illness is not their fault, they are loved, they are entitled and allowed to feel however they feel, and you’ll be there regardless because you enjoy who they are as a human, wholeheartedly.

Allow them to experience human emotion

Ill people do not exist solely to serve as inspiration, though many are inspiring, but instead are complex people who are simply human. Remind your friend they are allowed to feel joy, pain, fear, anger and sadness. They are human after all. Invite and welcome authenticity of emotions.

Ask how you can support them

Everyone has different needs, and it's important to reach out to your friend in order to find out how to best support them. Sometimes people are too overwhelmed to tell you what they want or need, and to that question I always say, just love them.

Remind them they are loved

Though simple, it is incredibly beneficial. A gentle reminder of someone else’s love for us is something we can all use every once in a while, especially when our life’s circumstances invite us to feel un-lovable.

 

Though there is much more I could add to this list, I think that this is a good start. I will leave you with this: "Be the friend you wish you had." Perhaps, both of you will build a beautiful, magical, wonderful friendship, even though illness is present.