As she’s progressed in her journey, blogger Britt Renee says she’s come to realize that while most truly care for their chronically ill loved ones, they don’t know where to begin. To wit, a question she’s often asked is, “How do I better support someone with chronic illness?”
At The Mighty, “a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities” with over a million users, Renee discusses nine ways of better supporting those with chronic illnesses like herself. (She notes that some suggestions may need altering, as chronic illness affects each person differently.) *
1. Reach out. Those with chronic illness may not be communicative because they find it hard to relate, says Renee. Though they may not be quick to respond and it may seem inequitable, she encourages loved ones to take the extra seconds and check-in “just to let us know you care.”
2. Hear me out. When conversations do occur, Renee observes she and her peers often receive unsolicited advice, including judgments about coping skills. Instead, when chronically ill people just want to talk, she admonishes those on the receiving end not to make the discussion about them, and to avoid marginalizing their loved ones’ experiences (pain, difficulties, etc.). Like her friend says, “Brittani, I can’t fit your shoes. All I can do is imagine and support how you best see fit. If I can’t do anything else, I can listen.” Knowing they have someone to lean on for support makes their lives much easier, Renee says.
3. Be accommodating. While Renee’s former friends were willing to hang out with her during the first six months following her diagnosis, they soon faded from her life as they weren’t willing to accommodate the change in their activity. Her boyfriend, however, understands her changing needs and that “whom” he does something with is more important than “what” he does.
4. Educate yourself. To better support loved ones (not police them), Renee points out that learning the basics of a disease is a practical way of being able to recognize triggers, symptoms and cautionary signs of complications. In turn, this can help the patient and caregiver better relate through the process of sorting treatment and coping options.
5. Use emotional intelligence. Renee says that having a chronic illness is hard every day, though some days more so than others. On the harder days when it’s obvious one is feeling down, it’s better to offer encouraging words or actions than “join the pity party.” Actions might involve leading by example through practicing positivity or avoiding negative self-talk, for instance. She theorizes this practice can help loved ones better cope over time.
6. Be a supporter, not an enforcer. Once you’ve learned that healthy nutritional habits are important in chronic illness, for example, practical support would be to enable healthier living by substituting nutritious foods for junk food. At the same time, she says avoiding a “health police” posture with dietary restrictions is equally important. Knowing this difference also involves emotional intelligence, as does knowing how to quickly move on when loved ones do make unhealthy choices from time to time.
7. Show up. Living in an online world makes your physical presence even more valuable, especially to someone with a chronic illness. For example, chronically ill people often attend to their numerous doctor appointments alone, but having someone accompany them once in a while can go a long way to making them feel supported. Or, if going on an appointment isn’t possible, perhaps checking in on the person after work for a few minutes. Renee reminds us not to let life’s chaotic pace distract us from what’ important.
8. Accept change. Chronically ill people may no longer be the same outwardly insofar as physical ability and lifestyle, but Renee says her heart is unchanged. It’s essential to adapt to these personal changes and not measure such people by their past, instead of focusing on the inward.
9. Commit. For Renee, many of her friends had a “mental expiration date” for “her new interactions, low energy and doctor appointments.” Since chronic illness is a lifelong proposition for many patients, with good days and bad, it’s vital that you’re committed to their support, with love and understanding, each and every day.
Renee invites the reader to leave any comments or questions beneath her article.
The article can be found at:
*Renee, B. (2017, November 10). 9 Ways to Better Support Someone with a Chronic Illness. The Mighty.