What is it like living with a chronic illness? It’s a little bit different, where an acute illness goes away with time, chronic illnesses are long-lasting. They can be maintained and managed, but these conditions become a part of day-to-day living. So, here are ten essential points to keep in mind when talking to a friend with a long-term health condition.
1. Illness does not define us
Even when someone has a chronic health condition, they are still a person. Everyone has dreams, hobbies, goals, loves, and those don’t go away when illness strikes. A good rule of thumb, when talking to and/or about anyone with a disability, is to use Person-FIrst language. That is, instead of saying “this person is disabled” you would say “this person has a disability”. By doing this you are recognizing that disability is not someone’s only defining factor.
2. Life goes on
This is something we have to live with, which means we carry on, just with modifications. We are capable of anything we set our minds to (albeit sometimes differently) and we adapt. Negative comments or excess pity oftentimes put us down, contributing to a mindset that may stifle what we are truly capable of.
3. Sometimes, we need a little patience
This is important, take time to listen to your friends with chronic illnesses. There are limitations, sometimes an activity is too strenuous or it’s just a bad day. Don’t take it personally. Instead, offer up some help, or more importantly, an understanding ear. Empathy goes a very long way.
4. Pain looks different on everybody
Not everybody with a chronic illness looks the same, sometimes, we don’t even look sick at all. Not everyone uses an assistive device, sometimes disability is invisible. It is imperative to remember that pain is subjective, everyone experiences it differently and it cannot be invalidated. So, if a friend says they’re not well, listen, try to understand, but avoid questioning that experience.
5. It is not our “fault”
Please, if there is one thing you take away from this article, remember that chronic illness is not a choice. It is something that happens, something out of our control. We did nothing wrong and nothing to deserve our specific circumstances. Be mindful with what you say, words can hurt much more than anything else.
6. Talking is not taboo
We don’t bite, please talk to us. Even better, ask questions. We know not everyone understands what our lives are like, and even under the umbrella of chronic illness you’ll find a wide array of conditions and symptoms. Don’t be afraid to bring it up, just mind your words (as mentioned above) and take a second to listen. We all have so much to learn from each other.
7. We appreciate your concern, but…
Most of us see a variety of doctors, and their advice always comes first. Your folk remedies, suggestions, and holistic practices may make great supplements to our current course of care, but they will likely not effectively replace modern medicine. Chronic illness is much more complicated than it may sound, and unfortunately yoga will not cure it, but it may provide secondary benefits.
8. Chronic conditions do not discriminate
Whether someone is young, old, of a specific ethnicity, religious, athletic, or otherwise, chronic health conditions don’t care. Watch your internalized stereotypes before you assume someone can’t possibly have a health condition due to an identity. You will find chronic illness just about anywhere you look, and the only thing it will usually hide behind is a smile.
9. We are independent
We may need help from time to time, but we will ask. If you see a friend with chronic health issues out and about, don’t just assume you need to run to the rescue. Treat them like a person first, ask if they want your assistance only if the situation seems appropriate. Use your best judgement, if someone doesn’t seem like they are struggling, don’t jump in. We are capable to doing much more than you may think.
10. Strength is a welcome side-effect
Along with occasional bad days, roadblocks, and learning just how to adapt, we also grow exponentially. We learn and change along the way, and build up a massive storage of strength. It takes a lot to navigate a world that seems so changed, or inhibits some of the ways you would move around within it. We become tiny lights, both forging and guiding the way for ourselves and others.