Understanding Friends with Chronic Illness

I know how hard it is to watch someone you love deal with chronic illness. There’s someone in my life who faces pain, fatigue and sickness that makes my pain and fatigue look like a party. Watching their struggle is one of the toughest things I do on the daily.

Here are some pointers to help you understand and even help your friend out:

Try not to be offended when they turn down your party invitation or cancel last minute.

Nine times out of ten, they turned it down because they had to and not because they wanted to. When they’re sick, they’re sick, and hanging out at a party isn’t going to go well. I’m talking: they could end up passing out on your floor. Or, less dramatically, maybe they’re having a bad health day and don’t want to zap the energy of your party. Sometimes smiling just requires too much out of them.

They may have had energy to do one thing, but not the next.

What I mean by this is that sometimes your friend will say yes to an activity, but a week later say no to something easier. For instance, if you asked me to go ice skating one day and I said yes- I’d be paying for that time of fun for days and possibly weeks. It can take days of rest to fully recover from an outing like that. So if you asked me several days later to meet up for coffee, I’d likely say no. I need to rest whenever I’m not at work until I have some energy again. This brings me to my next point.

Their tired is different than your tired.

I’m saying this at the risk of sounding pompous, but I’m trusting that you’ll believe I’m saying this with the best of intentions. When someone dealing with chronic illness/pain says they’re tired or exhausted, they mean they’re at the point that holding their head upright is zapping every teensy bit of energy they have left. Your tired may be having worked a long shift and yawning a little, their tired is working a short shift and barely having the strength to sit upright.

They sleep a LOT.

I could sleep for 15 hours every night and take a 2-3 hour nap every day, no problem. Now usually I aim for 10 at night and no nap during the day because I work almost full-time and I have church or massive to-do lists whenever I’m not at work. Although, to be honest, I’ve been napping this last week and letting my to-do list grow even bigger. I’m constantly in a state of fatigue and it takes me no time at all to fall asleep. Don’t be surprised if it’s the same for your friend.

They’re likely going to be a little moody.

Okay, so this one might just be me. The more tired I am, the more mood swings you’ll get out of me. I cry a lot too. My doctor says that’s normal. Something about not getting the rest your body demands resulting in unbalanced hormones. Maybe that’s rudimentary science, I dunno. But anyhoo! Don’t be surprised if your friend is on cloud nine one minute and down in the dumps the next. And please don’t take offense if they snap at you! Chances are they’ll come back and apologize after a nap!

They will try to keep up with you, but if you see them lagging, go easy on them.

Your friend wishes they were 100% and could do everything you can do and possibly everything they used to do. Unfortunately, that just isn’t an option for them at this time in their life. If you’re hanging out and they seem a little dreary eyed, it’s okay to suggest they take a break and consider a short nap. It’s possible they’ve been obsessively thinking about it and just didn’t want to seem like they were copping out again.

Just some additional help! Here are some things to avoid saying to your friend:

I know you’re tired, but can’t you just push through it? They would if they could.

It’s probably just in your head. This makes them feel psychotic.

You’re cancelling again? They feel bad enough already.

Let’s go run a marathon! 😉

Sometimes I think chronic illness and pain are just some of those things you don’t understand until you live with them. That’s how it was for me. Sadly, in the past, I was harsh on people because I thought they were just puttin’ on to get attention. I wish I could take all those judgments back. I understand now. And hopefully, after reading this, you understand a little better as well.

Understanding Friends with Chronic Illness

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