Helping a Friend with an Invisible Illness

invisible illness - help a friend

This blog was set up to help real people. As it has become more popular, I get to talk to more and more real people. Over the past few weeks, I have been amazed at how many of them are plagued with invisible illness or disability.

But what’s most amazing, is that so many people are left feeling alone on their journey. The common theme: friends falling away and the sense of loneliness and desperation spiralling. 

I’m writing this to help you, help your friends. Please read this. Please make yourself more aware of something that most likely affects a friend or family member. 

What is an Invisible Illness or Disability?

Well let’s start with visible illness and disability.

  • Broken bones
  • Skin conditions
  • Wheelchair or walking aid users
  • Oxygen users

It’s also people who are able to talk about their illness or disability without feeling a taboo surrounds it.

Invisible illness and disability is different and large in its range. Invisible illness (and disability) can include:

  • Mental health conditions; such as depression or anxiety
  • Development conditions; such as ADHD, dyslexia or dyspraxia (especially in adults)
  • Chronis Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

This is not an exhaustive list.

Taboo Subjects

Very often, these conditions become a taboo. Nobody wants to talk about them. Friends and family don’t know what to say and the sufferer of the condition does not want to burden their peers.

But the best thing you can often do is face the matter head on.

How You Can Help Your Friends & Family Now

You may be unsure if they are unwell, you may not feel it is right to ask. But by asking you are showing you care and they matter to you. Here is what you can do to help someone suffering an invisible illness or disability:

  • Ask how they are feeling and listen to their response. – Let your friend or family member know you care by asking about them. Tell them you want to know how they feel and you are prepared to listen. Then make sure you do listen. You don’t have to have solutions simply listening will help.
  • Be Flexible. – If you value the relationship, you may have to adapt. The person may not be able to do all the things they used to. Be prepared for plans to change last minute and don’t get frustrated or upset about it.
  • Ask what you can do to help – Often the person suffering is to proud to ask for help. Offer help but don’t offer help you can’t follow through with. It may not seem like a big thing to you but even going to the shops with your friend may help them more than you can understand.
  • Keep an open mind and avoid being dismissive – If someone opens up to you, don’t be dismissive or try to make light of their condition. If someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME tells you they feel tired, saying ‘everyone feels tired, just push through it’ can be crushing. If you don’t understand how they feel – Be open and tell them, but remind them you are still there for them.
  • Drop them a text or email – Sometimes everything can get on top of a person with an invisible illness. They go to ground and stop answering calls or going out. So drop them a message, ‘Hey, hope you are okay. Thinking of you! I understand things aren’t good – but if you need me let me know.’ A simple message like that may change that persons day.

When the going gets tough…

Being a persons friend when they become ill may not be as easy. Sticking around when the chips are down will show that person you are a true friend.

Its not to late! Is there someone you know isn’t feeling great? Have you stopped getting in touch because you don’t know what to say? Well why not drop them a message today? Let them know you are thinking of them.

Please share this!

If you think it is valuable or useful, please share this. Tweet it, Facebook it, Reblog it – Lets spread the word!

If we get through to just one person, it could change a life!

Also, I want to make this as useful as possible. If you suffer an invisible illness and want to add to the list – let me know in the comments below.

2 Comments on Helping a Friend with an Invisible Illness

  1. Lovely post. Some of my friends have been so good to me! Others have slipped away, but I like to think the best ones have remained.

  2. If your ill friend is becoming a downer because he/she is overwhelmed with negativity, be honest yet kind in saying that you want to stay connected but it is hard on you to keep hearing the same complaints and brainstorm ideas.

    Perhaps he/she can limit complaints to just 10 min at one time then you can interject that you can listen to more later, but need a positive topic for a break. Come with some happier topics to share – a funny video from youtube about a mutual interest, or pictures, or jokes. Even come visit with a pet if he/she likes it. Or go for a walk together, especially to a garden where you can talk about the changes, even if you need to find a wheelchair. Ask him/her for advice about something in your life.

    Similarly, if he/she wants you to stay longer or visit more often than is comfortable for you, be willing to brainstorm other solutions: like ideas where he/she can make new friendships, or invite him/her to a party with you. Any solution is better than you disappearing!

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