How To Be A Good Friend To Someone With A Disability or Illness
Being diagnosed with Crohns Disease, and my subsequent health problems since, has had a huge impact on my friendships. In most cases, it strengthened them. In others, not so much.
Illnesses aren't nice for anyone and I'm guilty of sometimes ignoring the impact that mine has on my loved ones. It's not always black and white and it can be scary to support someone that is ill. However, I'm here today to share some thoughts with you and share a few tips on how to be a good friend to someone with an illness. I hope you find this post useful. Obviously, I'm only one person with one condition so I cannot speak for everyone but this should be pretty universal.
support your friend
Support your friend as you would any. If you're able to, offer to help them out a bit. They may need lifts to pick up prescriptions or to attend hospital appointments, or they may have some shopping that needs doing or whatever. They may just need someone to chat to. You don't have to bombard them with reminders but just make sure they know that you're there for them and will support them where you can.
stay educated and ask questions where appropriate
Not everyone will like talking about their illness, so only broach the subject if it is something that your friend is comfortable with. I personally like it when my loved ones register an interest and ask me about my condition because it gives me a chance to talk about my illness and educate them. You could also do your own research if you don't feel comfortable asking your friend or if they don't wish to talk about it with you. However, don't fall into the trap of believing everything you read and remember that a lot of illnesses are very specific to the individual. Furthermore, don't make presumptions and assume you know it all, but I'll come back to that in a bit.
know what's acceptable to discuss or make light of
Moving on from the idea of communication, don't take advantage of the information that you may have been given. It's confidential and they're more than likely to have told you in confidence so don't be a dick. If the sufferer wants to make light of their illness, it's fine and they're more than allowed to do so. However, that doesn't mean it's necessarily okay for you to join in or joke about it yourself. Fatigue sufferers, surprise surprise, don't find 'lazy' jokes funny. Common sense, really.
involve your friend
This is a huge one to remember! I think a lot of the time people don't really know how to react so they shy away from the sufferer and try and ignore the situation. Surprisingly enough, this makes the sufferer feel quite crap! Invite them to gatherings and such! Even if the answer is no, it feels incredible to even be considered. There's nothing more embarrassing and hurtful than seeing pictures of your closest friends spending time together when they hadn't even messaged you. If your friend can't get out anywhere, or you suspect they're anxious to leave the house, why not ask them if they'd like you to go over to theirs for a little bit?
be patient and flexible
It's not always easy to plan things with a friend who has an illness because their symptoms can flare up at any time. Whilst it's annoying to have to reschedule plans, it may be necessary. Be patient and strop in secret if needs be!
restore their pep if needs be
Having a condition puts a massive strain on your mental health. I would say I'm aware of my anxiety every single day and aware of my depression at least three times a week, if not more. Don't forget to communicate with your friend and let them know how much they mean to you as a person. Don't lay it on thick, of course, because that's incredibly patronising but a message here or a care package there wouldn't go amiss and could help your friend immensely.
don't 'envy them'
Do not ever say that you envy someone with an illness or are jealous of their lifestyle. It's incredibly disrespectful and shows a clear lack of understanding and empathy. Would you seriously like to be chronically ill for the rest of your life? Would you seriously like to undergo multiple surgeries and diagnostic tests and take multiple tablets and feel hugely isolated and misunderstood every single day of your life? No, you wouldn't. 'Oh, I'd love to not have to go to work'. No. No. No. You're idealising their lifestyle and completely undermining the things that they go through on a daily basis.
don't make presumptions or be patronising
No, I didn't read the article about the latest superfood that 'cures' my illness. No, I didn't eat lots of fast food as a child. No, my bowel disease isn't like your stomach ache. Your friend is the only individual who truly knows how they feel so don't presume you know otherwise. There's an incredible amount of people who try to tell me how I feel and it gets right on my tits. Never talk down to sufferers, you will come away looking like a tit.
RESPECT THEM AS A WHOLE BEING
Your friend, ill or not, is still a human being. A lot of the aforementioned points are basically about holding certain levels of respect and courtesy for a fellow human being so just be a good friend in a wider sense and you're more than halfway there. You don't always have to acknowledge their illness. They'd be more than grateful to forget about it for an afternoon! Like this post or leave a comment *wink*, click off the Internet and phone up your mate for a chat. Do it now!
I really hope this proves to be useful to you in one way or another, whether you are a friend or someone with an illness or even if you're neither of those things, in which case this post must have been really irrelevant. I apologise if I came across a little bit irate. I'm fully aware that I need to be more mindful myself, so I wasn't in any way trying to put myself on a pedestal and shout at you all. We are all a bit shit from time to time. What do you think? Do you have anything else to add?
If you'd like to scroll through all of my advice posts then you can do so.