Friends With (Medical) Benefits
When you’re chronically ill, it’s easy to get caught up in your own stuff. When you spend most of your days in some level of pain and discomfort, it’s easy to think you’re the only one struggling. But lately I’ve been thinking more about how my struggles with Crohn’s affect the people around me, and the ways caring about a sick person can make you feel kind of helpless.
While having a chronic illness is definitely a huge daily challenge, I can also easily see the challenge that comes from seeing someone you love sick with no light at the end of the tunnel. That’s why I don’t get offended (or at least I try not to) when people ask if I’m better. While I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be “better” by traditional standards, I can’t necessarily expect my loved ones to come to that acceptance so quickly.
Luckily I’ve been surrounded by some exceptionally supportive people. My friends and family prove to me every day that even if not everybody “gets it,” I am at the very least blessed with people who care enough to try. I could easily write a novel about the many ways in which these people have helped me, and I hope I tell them enough how appreciative I am of them.
So for anyone with a chronically ill person in their life, here’s the best advice I can give you on how to be a good friend to a sick person, as evidenced so flawlessly by my wonderful best friends.
Listen up. Honestly, the biggest thing you can do is provide a commiserating ear. One of the biggest issues I deal with in terms of my illness is guilt–– guilt that I’m bothering the people I love with my complaints about my symptoms. But when you’re going through a patch of bad health, new symptoms can seem like they’re popping up every day, and it gets incredibly lonely if you have no one to vent to. Luckily, I have a few friends who I know I can text no matter what with unsolicited complaints such as “My joint pain is making it hard to eat my cereal. Send help.”
Don’t Question Limitations. Listen–– people with chronic illnesses probably already feel guilty about the various accommodations they need. So if they tell you they can’t spend long amounts of time out in the heat, or that they need a certain amount of rest between activities, don’t question them or pressure them to push through.
Be a cheering up squad. People with chronic illnesses often suffer from depression, because having a chronic illness sucks. It isolates you and makes you feel like you aren’t in control of your own body or life. I’m very good at hiding my own bouts of sadness because I don’t want to burden anyone. That being said, it means the world when a friend sees through the facade and realizes I’m in need of some encouragement–– whether that means a care package from my mom or a nice note (I adore snail mail.) My best friend Sarah recently brought me back a stuffed Baymax from Disney World, and I was so freaking touched to have my own personal healthcare companion that I pretty much tear up every time I look at him.
Celebrate small victories. For the average person, going on a walk or staying up past 10 isn’t an accomplishment. But for a chronically ill person, these little things can be huge. I recently got the okay from my doctor to taper off my steroids, and my best friend Kelsey has texted me every. single. day. To wish me a happy taper day 5, or 7, or what have you. It means the world to know that someone cares enough to check in, and also that someone else gets how exciting this seemingly small step is for me.
If you’re grossed out, don’t show it. I have Crohn’s disease. Gross stuff happens. A good week for me during this flare involves not having internal bleeding. There are plenty of people in my life that I have to lie to in order to spare them from the unfortunate GI symptoms that are my daily life. You know who I don’t have to do that with? My best friends. If they ask me to hang out and I can’t because of some strategically gross Crohn’s symptoms, I now send them this video and no more questions are asked.
Show up. The amount of friends and family who came out to my CCFA walk was overwhelming and lovely. The amount of friends who have given up a Saturday night to watch movies with me on my couch until I fall asleep at 8 PM is heartwarming. I’m of the opinion that bar-hopping friends come and go, but the people who will hang out with you when you aren’t very fun are forever.
So if you’re the friend or family member of someone with a chronic illness, know that we love you. We love you when you get it, we love you when you don’t exactly get it, and we even love you when pain-induced insomnia makes us cranky jerks. So thanks for being extra kind in a world that needs it. And to my sister–– thanks for the cookies.