Nearly 1 in 2 Americans (133 million) live with chronic illness and conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes or lupus. Yet, most show no outward sign of their disability—or the sense of loss, loneliness, and discouragement they live with daily. Pain, fatigue, limited mobility, and other symptoms interfere with everyday activities, responsibilities, and relationships.
Well-meaning friends and family, not understanding the unique challenges of the chronically ill, don’t know what to say or do to help. Here’s how you can help those living with chronic illness:
- Release expectations and be flexible. For someone living with chronic illness, it is possible to feel well one day and sick the next, making last-minute cancellation of plans unavoidable. Expect unpredictability and extend grace.
- Spend time with the chronically ill when its convenient for them. Meet at a time of day when they feel best. Those living with chronic illness struggle with regular attendance at work church, and social gatherings. Pain and fatigue take their toll, leading to physical and emotional isolation. Take time to visit those living with chronic illness at their homes or invite them to lunch—at a time that works best for them. A short visit over coffee or tea can make a world of difference in the life of someone struggling with chronic pain.
- Send notes, cards, and small gifts in the mail. Books, CD’s, or magazines can provide tremendous encouragement to those unable to leave their homes due to pain and fatigue.
- Affirm the individual’s worth and value. Feelings of insignificance and low self-worth often accompany chronic illness. Verbally affirm those you know who live with chronic illness. Don’t “assume” they have it “all together,” even if they look like they do! Speak words of affirmation, based on who they are not on what they do.
- Listen. Be a “safe place” where those suffering can express frustration, anger, or discouragement
- Understand when those living with chronic illness arrive late or leave early. The chronically ill struggle with excessive fatigue, making long meetings and traveling to conferences and events difficult. Allow for late arrivals and early departures.
National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week brings attention to an important but often overlooked issue–the challenges faced by the one in two Americans who live with chronic illness and conditions. It is worth both celebrating and supporting!
Author and speaker Mary J. Yerkes has lived with rheumatoid arthritis and ankloysing spondylitis for twelve years. She writes and speaks frequently on “living well” with chronic illness. Visit Mary online at her web site.