Please try to be a good friend to the person you know who battles chronic illness
The following are some suggestions on ways that you can be a good friend to someone who is struggling or coping with adjusting to life with a disability. Your friendship is more important now than ever. Being chronically ill can make you feel isolated, depressed and some people with severe chronic pain consider suicide. You never know how much of an impact even the smallest gestures can make when you are doing something nice for someone who is dealing with the difficulty of living with chronic illness. Your words and actions can provide everything from emotional support to reduction of symptoms - just by being a good friend.
1) Even if you know there's a good chance they can't make it, please remember to invite the chronically ill friend in your life to events, parties, and one-one-one outings.
Everything from large events and parties, to the occasional social outing for coffee. When a person never knows how they are going to feel from day to day, it can be common to cancel plans at the last minute or turn down lots of offers, and sadly, as a result, many friends stop inviting the friend to do anything at all. Unlike a flakey friend who always cancels last minute or blows you off when a better offer comes along - your chronically ill friend probably doesn't WANT to cancel plans, but has to for one reason or another. Please try not to take it personally when someone with chronic illness has to cancel - and please don't use it as an excuse to stop inviting them at all - it's very easy for friends to just stop inviting you after you've had to turn down or back out of plans. Please try to remember that just getting showered, dressed and leaving the house takes a GREAT deal of effort - so try not to call us up last minute and then get frustrated when it takes an hour or more for us to get ourselves ready. Just please don't stop inviting us to things- even if we've turned you down multiple times in the past. Cultivating and keeping friends is difficult when you're battling chronic illness- a little patience and understanding goes a LONG way.
2) Please try to set aside special time to invite us to do something that you know we CAN do.
Ask if they mind if you drop in just to chat, or invite us to come to your house (for a change of scenery) just to have a cup of hot chocolate. Invite us to go get our nails done together, or another passive activity that doesn't involve tons of movement, standing, walking,etc. While there are some days that we could handle a trip to the mall or even an amusement park - please try to invite us to do things we're almost ALWAYS capable of doing. It would mean VERY much to us that you care enough to plan something special - it shows that you care about us as a person and value our friendship.
3) Feel free to ask questions about our illness or current symptoms - talking about it often helps.
We don't want to feel like Debbie-Downer by bringing up our current problems or the struggles we've been facing, but when you ask, it shows that you CARE and you aren't afraid to be a friend with everything isn't all sunshine and flowers. The best thing you can do is to be a good listener WITHOUT trying to offer us medical advice. Please know that while you mean well - we have a whole team of specialist doctors, many of us regularly see a chiropractor, the health food store and a plethora of other professionals, and we've heard ALL the suggestions before. And whatever you do - try not to bring up the suggestion that "loosing weight might help you feel better" - those of us dealing with chronic illness are well aware that extra weight doesn't help, but most of us are also making a valiant effort not to continue to gain weight or hold onto those extra pounds - sometimes the medications we take have a side effect of weight gain, and there's simply nothing more we can do. Please remember that while we may be very frustrated about a particular health issue at hand, most of us would rather talk about our hobbies and interests, our families and what's going on in the world. If we're wearing a brace or on crutches, feel free to ask "How is your wrist doing?" - we like to know that you care and I promise, we won't go into a tremendously long timeline of our recent ailments just because you acknowledge something that's obviously a current issue.
4) Please try NOT to push us to participate in things you KNOW we can't do - if your circle of friends is going sky-diving, you can certainly bring up the topic, but don't try to push us to do things that we don't feel up to doing.On this same note - if we've politely declined because we aren't physically up to tagging along, try to find a way to include us after the fact. You can always bring pictures from the crazy drunken midnight ghost-tour or that sky-diving trip and tell us all about how it went -it will help us feel a little less left-out. Or, if we can't participate in something incredibly phsyical-maybe we'd like to come along to take pictures. You can sometimes find a way to include us without putting us at risk for further injury.
5) Remember that small gestures go a LONG way - Maybe we haven't felt up to leaving the house in weeks, but you could always offer to come over with a home-cooked meal (or take-out) and a red-box rental to have a night-in. Remember, during those long periods of time when we are home-bound - it gets incredibly boring and lonely to be stuck at home all the time - Any offer to spend time with us means so much, even if it's just dropping by and insisting that we can stay in bed in our jammies and you're content to just "hang out". True friends don't need to "DO" things together all the time - sometimes just having another person to talk to (rather than text messaging or chatting online) is enough to bring us out of a really bad mood.
6) If your friend is going through a REALLY rough time (symptoms that are being terribly persistent - chronic pain that's become really bad, or depression / anxiety resulting from their inability to do much of anything at that point and time) - remember that even the SMALLEST gesture counts; A quick phone call to ask how she's feeling, a Facebook message on her wall just to let her know you miss her, a text-message chat checking in on her - it's a little thing that can go a LONG way. Emotional boosts are KNOWN to translate into improved physical symptoms - so remember that even the smallest show of love and support can make a world of difference to a friend who is trapped inside a body that isn't cooperating.
7) Bring a gift - it doesn't have to be anything expensive or elaborate: a couple of home-baked brownies, a container of your mom's home-made chicken noodle soup, a pretty candle or a good book you've already read three times- everyone loves a gift, and make sure your friend knows that you don't expect anything in return.
8) Bring them food- it becomes really easy to live off of microwave meals or skip entire days when you're not up to standing in the kitchen and cooking. If you've made a big dinner and have leftovers- why not offer to stop by your sick friend's house with a single-portion so they can re-heat it for lunch when no one is home and they aren't up to making something for them-self!
9) Just outright ask: Is there anything I can do for you today that would make your life a little easier?
You could offer to walk their dog or to take their kid(s) to the playground for a few hours. You can drop by with a small bunch of flowers, or ask if you can throw a load of laundry in the wash for your
friend. Maybe that sink full of dishes could be put in the dishwasher or you could offer to carry their trash outside to the can?
It doesn't have to be a GRAND gesture-and no one is suggesting you offer yourself up for a full day of house-cleaning (although if your friend has recently had surgery, this could be an AWESOME group project for your circle of friends to offer!) - sometimes your sick friend is internally stressing out about the fact that it's trash night and she's simply not up to carrying that kitchen trash bag to the curb... so your offer to help with such a small chore (Even on your way out - "Hey, I'm heading out now, would you like me to take your kitchen trash bag out with me, or did anyone bring your mail in today?") -these types of offers can be so minor, but yet such a big deal to someone who is having trouble staying on top of their household chores. You just have no idea how such a simple offer can really ease the mind of someone who is feeling trapped on the couch by unrelenting symptoms.
10) My last suggestion is my favorite - because there's not a single person I can think of who wouldn't appreciate this type of gesture. It doesn't have to cost you anything, but it can make a world of difference to your friend:
Pack a mobile "wellness kit" - include a snack you know your friend enjoys (and can eat) - take along a movie (preferably something funny or that you've already seen a million times and know you'll both enjoy) and have an old-school "sleepover" style get together. Bring a hairbrush, and nail polish - give your friend a mini-manicure or paint her nails with cute designs. Do you give a good back or neck rub? If not- bring along a microwave-style heating pad, and offer it up for the persons neck and shoulders. You could offer to run a brush through your friend's hair and try a new style - a simple braid or even a pony tail or bun can make someone who is sick and really down feel like a whole new person. And who doesn't love the sensation of having someone else play with your hair? This type of mini-makeover can have lasting affects - not only do you let your friend know that you care, by planning something that doesn't require her to get up and do much of anything, but you're spending quality time, and when you leave, your friend might have really cute nails and a brain in her hair - leaving her feeling much better than she did when you arrived. There's not a person on this planet who doesn't enjoy the tingly sensation of having someone else brush their hair - a soft bristle brush is best. Or bring along a nice-scented hand lotion and give them a hand massage - this type of personal attention shows that you truly care, that you want to make them feel special and loved, and doesn't require any effort but for your sick friend to kick-back, relax and enjoy the special attention.
An old-school style sleepover- where you braid her hair, paint her fingernails and watch Clue for the 300th time can be JUST what the doctor ordered.
Do you have suggestions for what a friend could do for you to make you feel better when you're feeling bad, or have you done something special for a sick friend lately? Please share in the comments - we'd love to hear your ideas!
Life at 34, as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend... with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, nothing is easy..but it *IS* worth it.