How to Be a Good Friend, Even With Chronic Illness
Hello! If you’re coming here from www.MarkieKeelan.com, welcome! I’m so happy to have you here.
If you’re here from my audience, go check out part 1 to this blog on Markie’s page! She’s a coach and a mental health counselor, just like me. She’s licensed to practice counseling to Colorado residents, and she offers online sessions. She also provides coaching to clients across the country.
Now, for the content.
It can be hard to be a good friend these days.
Too often, we either give all we have and end up draining ourselves, or we give so little that others think we don’t care. If you live with chronic health issues, especially persistent pain, then you’ve probably been in both of these camps.
You often stop responding to texts because you don’t know what to say, feel like you’re a burden and distance yourself, say no to social events, and cancel plans last minute.
My clients often deal with chronic health issues in one form or another, and I’ve found that being social can be difficult when you’re sick.
That's why I want to share with you the life hacks I’ve gathered to make it all a little easier.
1. Respond to all text messages.
If there’s someone in your life who you never want to respond to, it might be time to consider letting that person go.
But for those who you want to keep around - listen up. Text them back in a reasonable amount of time. If you need time to think about their question, take time. But don’t ghost them. Be open and vulnerable. As you have these difficult conversations and reflect back on them, they’ll get easier to manage.
Your friends will start to understand you, because you’re not leaving them guessing. You’re giving them real insight into your life, without any pretenses or those little white lies that make life just a little bit easier. You know the ones, “I’m sorry, I never got this text!”
Set a deadline with yourself. What is the maximum time you’ll allow yourself to go without responding to texts? It’s so easy to put the phone down and forget all about the text. So I set a 24-hour limit with myself. I put a note in the “reminders” list of my phone so that I don’t forget, and I never go longer than 24 hours.
2. Know that you are not a burden (& how to believe this is true…)
When we feel like we’re a burden, one of two things happen. We either end up becoming a burden, or we become so distant that our friends think we don’t care. Neither of these things are what you want.
YOU are not the burden. It’s easy to get this mixed up, but the burdensome feelings come from the amount of confusion the person you’re talking to has around your chronic illness. In a research study published by the American Psychological Association, it was shown that communication and lack of education were the biggest challenges for family members of those with chronic illness.
Communication can be really difficult for people with chronic illness because it’s hard to know when to talk about our struggles and when to keep them inside, especially when our illness is all we’re thinking about.
But talking about it nonstop isn’t healthy for anyone. It won’t make you feel better, and your friends and family will only become more frustrated because there’s nothing they can do to help, and that’s hard to deal with.
There has to be a balance between expressing ourselves truthfully and vulnerably and knowing when to talk about something else.
For the sake of your mental health, it’s imperative that you find joy and interest in topics that have nothing to do with your illness. It’s not healthy to stay in the same mental space every single day.
So update your friends about your physical and mental health, because you deserve (and need) to talk about it. But remember to bring in other aspects of life. A new coffee shop you found and love, your nieces’ adorable teeth growing in, how your relationships are going, a new movie that’s coming out or your favorite book. The topic choices are endless, and this will make your relationships more enjoyable for both you and your loved ones.
Reduce the confusion for others. When people make assumptions about your illness or your needs, don’t take offense. If you get angry, just pause. Remind yourself that they don’t know anything about your experience and that it’s YOUR job to communicate it in a way that THEY can understand.
In addition, ask for what you’re looking for from your friends and family before every conversation. If your friend has absolutely no similar experience but is a great listener, then start the conversation off by stating, “I really just need someone to listen to me right now without giving advice. Do you have the energy for that?” If you need advice, start off by asking, “I don’t know what to do, and I could use some outside perspective.” If you choose this route - be willing to listen. This will help you get what you want and need much more often.
Say yes to social events that you actually want to go to (read about this point and point 2 here).
Be proactive, and don’t wait until the last minute to cancel plans.
Respond to all text messages, don’t ghost.
Know that you’re not a burden, so you don’t speak it into existence.
Changing tides, one wave at a time, together.
Looking for support in managing your chronic illness and your relationships?
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