If you or a loved one is living with a chronic condition, research shows an important part of living your best possible life is good social support. Patients do better when they have someone who:
Understands them: Symptoms of chronic illnesses fluctuate from day to day, and some may appear abruptly in response to stress, diet, or unpredictable disease processes. Your partner may seem to feel well, then suddenly need to rest. Your loved one needs to know you understand this.
Believes them: Many patients have varied and subtle symptoms that, when combined, seem to make no sense. They don’t look sick and often are labeled as a hypochondriac. People with chronic conditions can feel disregarded and brushed off on a regular basis. Be someone who really believes what they’re telling you.
Wants them around: Feeling sick to one degree or another all the time can make someone feel very alone. When everyone you know is going on with life and getting out and about, it’s easy to feel forgotten. Knowing people still want you in their lives goes a long way to feel connected and valued.
How to Help
When someone feels supported, it helps reduce the impact of life’s stressors, improves mood, increases likelihood of good self-care, and reduces self-reported symptoms. Here are some suggestions for what you can do for your loved one:
- Listen well: Often people try to find all the right things to say, but before saying anything, be sure you have heard what your partner has expressed. This will go a long way to solidifying that understanding he/she needs.
- Say out loud what you think is obvious: Tell them you understand, you believe them, you love them, you’re in their corner.
- Invite them, even if you doubt they’ll come: They will have good days and bad days. When they’re feeling rotten, they still wish they could be there. On a good day they might really want to be around friends, so make sure they’re included.
- Be patient: Your loved one is doing the best they can given the circumstances. Much of the time they want to get more done than they can, and will do their best to get back to it when they feel better.
- Lend a hand, but don’t do it all: Your partner doesn’t want to be seen as a “princess” or lazy by having someone do all the work, but lifting a bit of the load will help get the job done. If your loved one does the cooking, offer to cut up veggies. If they do the laundry, offer to help sort or fold it.
- Buckle up for a ride: You will see peaks and valleys in how your loved one is doing, this is the new normal. Good days don’t mean the problems are over, bad ones don’t mean it’s only getting worse from here.
- Live the new adventure with them: Life isn’t over, it’s just a new chapter. Many chronic illness patients leave behind things they used to be able to do, which means it’s time to explore and discover new interests and talents. Be their cheerleader while they find these things.
These things may not seem like much to you, but to your loved one they’re huge.