The uncertainty involved in being diagnosed and living with a chronic illness is extremely difficult. What are the implications for one’s health and wellness in the short-term? In the long-term? According to the American Psychological Association, news of a chronic illness diagnosis can feel like a roller coaster of emotion, including the various stages of grief.
Many chronic illnesses have no known root cause or cure, and can progress towards worsening symptoms. For these reasons, living with chronic illness means contending with a heightened level of ambiguity on a day-to-day basis. Given all this, it can be challenging to know how to best support our loved ones.
Moreover, there is a difference between just being diagnosed with a chronic illness and what it means to be living with it, years later. This brief guide offers some gentle suggestions on how to show up for your loved ones, both just after a diagnosis and down the road.
If your loved one was recently diagnosed:
- Offer support and time. Tell your friend or loved one directly that you are there for anything they may need—to attend their appointments with them, assist with scheduling medication deliveries, handle errands or household tasks, or simply be in close proximity for the length of time that is comfortable for them.
- Listen. Receiving a diagnosis can cause a period of shock. Your friend or family member may not want to talk, but if they do, reserve your advice or sharing of personal experiences and simply listen. Your presence is often more comforting than anything you could say.
- Acknowledge the difficulty. Say some version of: this must be so hard for you. Validate the struggle of going through the numbness, fear, and sadness of a recent diagnosis.
- Communicate your feelings, to a point. While you can share your feelings, focusing on your own distress might create a situation in which your loved one will feel the need to take care of you.
- Educate yourself. Take the time to learn about your loved one’s recent diagnosis, however complex, rather than relying on them to explain it to you. This will go a long way towards showing them how much you care.
- Respect their privacy. Ask your friend or loved one who they would like to share their diagnosis with and abide by what they decide.
If your loved one has been living with a chronic illness for some time:
- Check in with them. Perhaps it has been a decade since their diagnosis. Nonetheless, the fact that they are living with a chronic illness has not changed. Occasionally and respectfully ask how they are feeling and coping.
- Believe them. Some chronic illnesses are invisible, with no overt manifestations that you can see. If your friend or family member shares their concerns about their health with you, take their word for it. Encourage them to contact their physician.
- Continue to respect their privacy. Perhaps your friend or loved one’s chronic condition is “old news” to you. Do not waver in your respect for their wishes or privacy. Once information is shared, it cannot be unshared. It is up to your loved one alone to decide who knows what about their illness.
This blog is intended to be informational in nature. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.