Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Whilst when we break a leg, get the flu or have an accident, everyone around us can see that we aren’t 100%, a huge amount of illness and disability is under the surface. These are often called invisible illnesses; but what are they and what can you do to support someone who is living with one?
What are invisible illnesses?
Invisible illness is an umbrella term for any illness or disability that is not visible in day to day life. They can vary; and include everything from clinical depression and other mental health conditions, to conditions that affect our bodies as well as our minds. These could be things such as arthritis, ME (which is a condition that causes extreme tiredness), various genetic conditions like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, digestive conditions like Crohn’s disease or chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.
How can you help someone you know who lives with an invisible illness?
Because invisible illnesses are so varied and include so many different conditions, there is no one size fits all approach to supporting someone with one. However, we have a few basic tips to help you help someone you know who needs it.
Don’t pressure them to do things with you
When you live with a chronic condition or invisible illness, having a full social life often is not an option. So, they may cancel plans at the last minute, or be hard to pin down to anything at all. If that is the case, don’t put lots of pressure on them to spend time with you. Similarly, they might drop in and out of plans, and you might find this inconsistency difficult to deal with. It’s important to know that it’s not personal.
Ask them what they would like to do instead
Sometimes, it might be best to let them take the lead on what you do when you do get a chance to spend time together. They might want to chill out, or big crowds and strenuous activities could feel like they might be too much. So, let them take the lead and come up with some stuff you can do together.
Give them the space they need to talk when they are ready
Don’t force them to talk about what’s going on with them if they aren’t ready. Doing so could force them away, or make them less likely to open up in the future. Instead, just let them know that you are there to listen to them when they are ready.
Know that there will be good days and bad days
When you are supporting someone with a chronic illness, it’s important to remember that they will have good days, and bad days. It’s also important to know that so will you. It’s OK to feel frustrated, guilty, even angry with them, and you shouldn’t try to suppress these emotions. Instead, find someone to talk to about them who you trust and make sure you have time and space to do things for you.
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