by Princess Harmony Rodriguez
No matter who you are, even the most minor illness could put you in a sour mood and with good reason – nobody likes feeling bad. But that’s how people living with chronic illnesses feel every single day. The pain and discomfort itself is, obviously, physically draining. But more than that, it’s emotionally difficult. There’s a lot that goes into taking care of a chronic illness.
But, what is a chronic illness? It’s an illness that doesn’t go away and has a treatment but not a (known) cure. Additionally, some chronic illnesses are progressive and worsen over time. Some of the most well-known chronic illnesses are HIV, diabetes, and heart disease. Left untreated, or under-treated, these can progress and be fatal. HIV causes AIDS and brings with it opportunistic infections; diabetes can cause organ failure; and heart disease can bring sudden cardiac arrest. The good news, however, is that these can be controlled and, with proper care, a person with them can have a somewhat ordinary life. Even people diagnosed with AIDS can get their immune system back to normal if they adhere to treatment and take care of themselves. That’s the way it is with most other chronic illnesses, too. Medicine and other treatments can make us functional, if not comfortable.
That’s why it’s important to know how to support people who live with chronic illness. With the help of those around us, our conditions can improve. Plus, since chronic illnesses are emotionally trying, it’s best that our friends understand. So here are a few easy ways to help your friend(s).
1. Remember that chronic illnesses may hinder productivity and socializing
Having multiple chronic illnesses, I learned that productivity is a fragile process and it’s not enough to just want things done. You need to be physically and mentally able to do it. Hanging out is the same way. So the first, and most important, point is to understand that chronic illnesses can affect these things.
Your friend with a chronic illness can’t hang out? Your coworker doesn’t seem to be as productive as usual? When their illnesses are acting up, it’s not that they won’t but that they can’t. It’s nothing personal and it’s not laziness, it’s that they’re in pain. Making them feel bad about not being able to do the things they’re supposed to, because of their illness, hurts them far more than it does you.
I love my friends, my job, my dogs, and lots of other things that bring me joy. But when my chronic illnesses are acting up, I can barely think coherently. It’s not a personal slight or anything, it’s just how illnesses work.
2. You’re (probably) not a doctor, so don’t try to play that role
I know what you’re thinking. This shouldn’t seem like something that needs to be said. Unfortunately, though, it does. Well-meaning people see something on TV or the internet and try to give it to their friend to help them. This, usually, is a bad idea. Unless it’s an actual medication, it’s often bunk. It’s sweet that you may want to help your friend, but that could cause more harm than good.
At best, the suggestions may do nothing. But at worst, they can be deadly. Some homeopathic remedies, used for both prevention and treatment, have been shown to be poisonous to the people who take them. Some can cause organ failure, others can aggravate illnesses. It’s best to just let the doctors be doctors. If your friend chooses to seek out alternative medicine, and it works for them, don’t try to add new things to their treatment.
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If you still want to help your friend with their treatment, ask them what you can do for them. They know what they need best. Some of us need meds reminders because our memory is impacted by our condition, others need other things, and some people just might want your time.
3. Chronic illnesses often go hand in hand with mental illnesses, so watch your friend’s emotional health
People who suffer from chronic illnesses are at risk for getting equally serious mental illnesses. Chronic illnesses can often cause anxiety, depression, and PTSD in people who experience them. A few examples would be social anxiety in people with psoriasis caused by the visibility of one’s illness, a unique form of PTSD in people living with HIV/AIDS often caused by surviving when their loved ones didn’t, and the depression and sense of loss in people with heart disease caused by their inability to do things they once did with ease.
Knowing this is an important part of knowing how to help your friend. Sometimes, these mental illnesses and feelings are temporary and can go away once they’ve gotten used to living with the disease (or have made their peace with it). Other times, these things may persist. In either case, make sure to keep an eye out for your friend. If you notice that they’re withdrawing or seem down, let them know so that they can get help for it. There are other things that help too: positive reinforcement, cheering them on as they try to get better, and cheering them up may help. Also, if they just need to vent or cry, let them. It seems simple, but that really helps.
4. Pay attention to your own health, don’t come around your friend if you’re sick
Many chronic illnesses impact the immune system in one way or another. That means that people who have chronic illnesses are at risk for other illnesses that could cause complications for them. Asthmatics, for example, are particularly endangered by things that affect the respiratory system. That means that even the common cold could be a problem for them.
In cold and flu season, it’s recommended that people who think they might be sick not go to work or school because that could spread it to people, but most people ignore the warnings. That’s where this comes in: don’t come around your friend if you’re sick. If they get sick, it could hurt them more than it would an ordinarily healthy person.
It takes a lot for a person with a chronic illness to gain control over their illness and their lives again. A key part of this process includes having a strong support network, and that’s not just limited to doctors. That includes friends and family who love and care for the person. Armed with these four simple suggestions, and your own love and concern for your friend, you can help them with the fight of their life!
Friends help friends, and now you can!
Princess Harmony is a pretty sick girl (heheh, get it?) that really likes bright lipsticks. When she’s not crying in pain, she writes, watches anime, and plays video games. Her favorite foods are empanadas, papas rellenas, and jelly donuts. She can be found on Twitter at @jasmine_weapons.
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