Living with a chronic health condition can be a lonely and debilitating time. Everyone will experience pain or poor health at one point or another in their lifetime, but for some, the problem doesn’t always go away, and they have to adjust to living with a chronic condition that affects their whole life.
It is thought that over 40% of Americans live with chronic health conditions. Not all conditions are visible, and many people will be struggling with many different symptoms daily.
Knowing how to help them best and support them as they navigate this part of their lives can help them immeasurably. But what is the best way to do this?
Understand Your Words
Words can have a massive impact on those already going through a hard time, so watching what you are saying and knowing the implications of your words can go a long way in creating a positive relationship.
Toxic positivity has become more and more talked about in recent years and is something those with chronic conditions encounter frequently. Toxic positivity is when you use words to shame people intentionally or not to make them feel better about their situation or gloss over how they genuinely feel.
Phrases such as “just smile,” “it can’t be that bad” or “it could be worse” aren’t helpful and are damaging to those already struggling. Appreciate what they are going through and look to change how you talk, such as asking if you can do anything to help what will make it better for them to do what they need to do that day.
Appreciate that everyone copes and adapts differently, so even if you know someone else with the same condition who appears to be able to do more, for example, don’t use this as a way to undermine how your loved one is feeling or what they are experiencing.
Offer Practical Help
Often, a person with a chronic condition will be navigating many different doctor or specialist points or accessing healthcare services. To make their lives easier, ask them how you can assist, from driving them to appointments to sourcing the best healthcare coverage by using a Health Insurance Agency to find the best provider and coverage for their exact needs.
Be specific with what you can do, offers of help, while well-meaning can often be empty gestures. Make it clear what days you can help if appropriate or what you can assist them with, such as grocery shopping or school runs, etc.
Be Prepared to Be Let Down
Sadly, people living with chronic conditions are often likely to cancel plans at the last minute. Especially those living with fluctuating conditions such as Fibromyalgia, where some days are worse than others. It can be frustrating to have plans canceled at the last minute; however, appreciate that it isn’t intentional or malicious and is sadly going to be par for the course for some. Try not to get angry at your loved one if this happens and let them know it is ok, and you can always rearrange when they feel better.
While they might not always be up for going out, or joining social events, being invited is still a way to show you care and want to include and it can be a big help for mentally to know people still care and haven’t cast them aside simply because they can do everything they were once able to.
This applies even if the invitation is refused. It really is the thought that counts, and being included can give them a sense of normality that is often missing from the lives of people living with chronic conditions.
Empathy can often be misconstrued and while you might feel telling someone to lose weight at ease pressure off their joints is helpful, in reality, it usually isn’t.
Showing empathy is offering care and support. Listening to their words and paying attention to their movements and cues can alert you to how they are really doing, and showing respect and offering support will go a long way and be more beneficial to their physical and mental needs than being dismissive or appearing to negate their feelings whether intentionally or not.
Do Some Research
Looking into the specific condition and learning what you can help. It means they will have someone who knows about as much if not more than they do and is well versed on what they have to go through daily, whether it is new treatments options or knowing what type of situations or environments to avoid or when they need to eat to be able to medicate correctly, and so on. The more you know, the more you can understand their lives and what goes into them living each day.
Show interest and support them.
For those unfamiliar with or with no experience of living with chronic illnesses, it can feel very repetitive for outsiders as it can be life-consuming. Show an interest in their life and condition and encourage them to discuss changes or symptoms they might be experiencing. With chronic illness comes many bad times, but there can also be some bright days, too and the more supported a person feels, the more good days they will have thanks to those around them making an effort and being conscious of their condition.
Despite how bleak it might seem, living with a chronic condition doesn’t mean life has to stop for you. Far from it, you just need to support them as they learn to live their life differently than they thought they would or how they wanted to.
Use your position to give them the care, help, and consideration they need when you can make all the difference to your loved ones and help you understand what they are going through to be there for them and how they need it. Chronic illness is exactly as it sounds, chronic and neverending, and it can take some time to get used to the fact, this is how life is from now on. Understanding and appreciating this can make all the difference to those around you.