Chronic Illness Friendships:
I’m not going to lie. They’re hard. When you’re sick, you get kind of get flaky. You can’t make plans far in advance because you can’t predict a good or bad day. If you do make plans, it is more than likely that you’ll have to back out. I can’t even count (I could, but it would make me sick) how much money I’ve wasted on concert tickets over the years. Now, if I can’t buy a ticket the day of/it sells out, I don’t go, for example.
I was inspired by a Twitter conversation to write about how to be a good friend someone with chronic illness. You need to remember that chronic illness can come in so many forms – mental health, neurological health, autoimmune disorders, among many others. Some are obvious and talked about, but others might be more hidden. However, if you know your friend is sick (maybe they send this to you…) here are some tips for chronic illness friendships!
Also, remember that chronic illnesses don’t go away. They’re chronic. It’s not like a broken leg that heals. Your friend will be battling a big monster of illness for the rest of her life. Your friendship can change her life more than you can ever know. When you get sick, friends are a precious commodity. Good friends are more precious than gold.
I will admit that this list was really hard to write. Not because the tips are hard to give, but because it is an emotionally charged subject for me. Like I said above, a good friend is more precious than gold. I don’t have the kind of friends that I describe below, so maybe it’s more of a wishlist.
Also, these tips can be a good reminder on how to be good friend to anyone. Friendships take work, if you want to have good ones.
If You Don’t Remember Anything Else, Remember This:
- Quality Time
How to Create and Maintain Amazing Chronic Illness Friendships:
- Ask your Chronically Ill Friend (CIF) what his or her limitations are – and remember them. It is likely that you only see her on “good” days, so remember that she probably has a lot more limitations than you know about. I tend to hide mine because it is embarrassing that I can’t do what a normal 26 year old can do. And if I try to do those things, I can end up in bed for days.
- Respect your CIF’s limitations. If your friend emails back and say that she can’t make it to whatever event or commit to something that far in advance, respect that. She won’t have the energy to defend herself by emailing back and forth. You might think you’re helping her by getting them out of the house, but she knows her limitations. Trust me, she’ll take you up on offers that she can do.
- Invite your CIF to do things that fit within her limitations. If she’s too depressed to get dressed and go out to lunch, maybe stop by her house with lunch. Remember that maybe it could be hard to get cleaned up, but just say you won’t mind.
- Ask your CIF what she wants to do! She might have some ideas. Perhaps you can block out an afternoon to spend time together and if your friend feels well, go do something she has been wanting to do, but hasn’t felt well enough to do. If she doesn’t feel well, maybe watch your favorite 90’s movie at home. Don’t put pressure on the time. Just commit to spending some time with your friend. The time is way more important than the activity.
- Don’t pressure someone who is ill to push through her limits. She can end up even more ill. But, don’t forget her. She stills has feelings and craves human interaction. You don’t have to give up on her, but you may want to invite her to a group brunch instead of a night of drinking. Actually, incorporating her into group events and helping them make new acquaintances, if that’s something she is able to do, can be helpful.
- Simple and little things mean a lot. Stopping by for coffee, even if you brew it at your CIF’s house can mean the difference between another day alone and a day of happiness.
You might just be dropping by on your way home from work, but your CIF probably looked forward to it for days. I know when someone does that for me, I will slowly and steadily declutter, try to wash my hair, put on matching sweatpants and a shirt, etc. I will seriously and gladly prepare for days if I know a friend is stopping by for 45 minutes to chat.
- Maintain your friendships with technology. CIFs are used to connecting with people online. Their phone might even be their lifeline. Simply texting, “Hey, how are you?” can be a game changer for a CIF. Being remembered is something that every single person craves, but the isolation that comes from being chronically ill takes that away.
- Try to remember other things! If your CIF had a medical test, an important appointment, a birthday, or their dog got sick, a simple email or text is meaningful. Again, everyone likes to be remembered. Snail mail is fun, too! Everyone loves it. Make that trip to the mailbox a nicer one!
- Being sick is expensive. Remember that your friend may be on disability, working fewer hours, dependent on family for financial support, etc. Insurance only covers a small portion of a lot of complimentary therapies that help with pain. Additionally, the copay on certain medications can be enough to cut in on a food budget. So, if you can pick up your friend’s library books for her or just watch a Netflix movie with her, that can be super meaningful.
- Adjust your expectations. Maybe your CIF was your best friend, but now things are different. Maybe you are both hurting, but if you follow some of the tips above, you can show your CIF why they were your best friend and how much they mean to you.
And always be consistent!
The difference between that person who drops in and out of your life at their convenience, which kind of hurts and a friend is consistency. Personally, nothing hurts me more (regardless of health) than having a friend who may or may not be a friend. I don’t live to be friends when it’s good for someone else’s timetable. #sorrynotsorry Even if it’s only once a month, once every other month, or less than you can spend time together, you can spare 5 minutes for a text or send an email once a week.
If you are busy, it literally takes 5 seconds to send a text that says, “Lots of work this week – can we catch up this weekend?” I just timed it. Do it.
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