There are about 318.9 million people in the United States. Out of that 318.9, around 133 million of those people are living with at least one chronic illness. A chronic illness is defined as a long-term illness, often with no cure. Most of the time “long-term” really means “life-long”. There are a multitude of these illnesses, ranging from Chron’s Disease to arthritis. Some may have different stages or types while others do not. Either way, these illnesses feel like hell. They take a toll on your relationships, careers, mental health and more. For those who do not have a chronic illness, it can be difficult to understand what it’s like or how to help. I have experienced this confusion and frustration in my own life as I have watched my fiancé try to grasp for a way to understand and help me through my battle with endometriosis. However, this article is not about me. It’s about you, the family member or friend who wants to know what questions or comments to avoid and how you can maybe help your loved one.

  1. “You don’t look sick”. (First of all, good. If I walked around looking how I felt, I’d look like a freaking zombie. At least this $4 cover-up I got at CVS is doing its job.) Not all illnesses are visible. When someone is going through chemotherapy they lose their hair making their illness seem a little bit more “present”, if you will. You cannot see the widespread pain that someone with fibromyalgia feels. However, just because you cannot see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Trust me, we couldn’t make up this stuff up.
  2. If we could avoid it, we’d never bail on you. I cannot count the times that I’ve had to say, “sorry, I can’t tonight” or, “can I take a rain check?”. Our bodies do not go by our social calendars. They do not care if there is a huge party coming up and they absolutely will not reschedule a flare-up or bad pain day so you can go. We’d much rather be out with you than on our couches or in our beds for the fourth Friday night in a row. Also, we miss you. We really really do. So, maybe try offering to come over and watch a movie with us if we keep having to bail on going out.
  3. Asking for us to give you some of our medication is not only rude but it’s also illegal. Don’t be that guy. A lot of these illness have a common symptom… pain. It’s not a, “I stubbed my toe” kind of pain. It’s more of a crippling and agonizing pain that sometimes Tylenol cannot help. So, we’re prescribed certain medications to help us manage it. Do not ever ask someone for their pain medication. We are prescribed them because our doctors deemed it medically necessary. So, I’m really sorry, guy who just messaged me on Facebook, you can keep your $20. Maybe it’ll cover your co-pay for that doctor’s appointment you should make for your “really bad headaches”.
  4. Yes, we’ve tried yoga. And juicing. And changing our diet. And the herbal remedy you said cured your mother/boss/Uber driver. Believe me, if there is something that will supposedly “help”, we’ve tried it. I’d watch Twilight on repeat for three weeks straight if someone told me it’d help.
  5. “Are you even trying to get better?” That’s the common follow-up question after you’ve told someone that yes you’ve tried yoga, juicing, changing your diet, that herbal remedy, watching Twilight, and pretty much anything else they could recommend. Just because it didn’t work does not mean that we’re not trying. In fact, we’re trying extremely hard. Who in their right mind likes being sick all of the time?
  6. “So-and-so has that and they’re fine!” That’s super. I wonder if that Twilight marathon helped them. Again, every illness and every person is different.
  7. It’s not a cold, it doesn’t just “go away”. As I addressed earlier, chronic illnesses are long-lasting. So, as kind as we know you’re trying to be, asking us if we’re better yet tends to upset us. We’re not being pessimistic, we’re being realistic. (Coming to terms with one’s illness is a huge step. Recognizing that it’s not a week long journey but more of a lifetime journey is so important and it makes coping easier.) When we go to explain to you that it’s more or less a “forever thing”, we mean it. We’re not exaggerating or being dramatic.
  8. We know that it affects you, too. And trust me, that’s one of the more difficult things to process. We don’t want to hurt you. We don’t want you to worry about us all of the time. Anything and everything you do and sacrifice in order to help us out never goes unnoticed or unappreciated. It can be difficult having a loved one who is ill. Please know that we love you and admire your willingness to carry us to the bathroom or help us out of bed or hold our hand during appointments and scary moments.
  9. We’re kind of badass sometimes. I won’t go into horrible detail but you should see some of the stuff we put up with. No, we can’t lift a bus or fly. But, we can go weeks in excruciating pain and still put a smile on our face.
  10. We find strength in our support systems. When we’re surrounded by people who love and care for us it makes it a lot easier to fight through the bad times. It can get really scary when you’re faced with medical terms and procedures you’re not familiar with. But, with a friend or family member by your side cheering you on it, you feel strong and inspired to kick whatever illness you have right in the ass. There is strength in numbers. We cannot do this without you. Thank you.

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About The Author

Ashlee Fowler

Twenty-two. Fiancée to co-founder and fellow contributor Adam Kappel. Caffeine, comics, and comedy.

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