As discussed in a previous blog post, many people quietly suffer from illnesses that are unseen by others. If you have a loved one who has an invisible illness such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, Anxiety, or something else, it can be hard to know what you should and shouldn’t say to them. I already wrote about things to avoid saying, but here’s a few things you can and should say:
“Help me to understand”
Ask them questions rather than guessing or assuming. Be patient and listen, really try to understand how they feel and what they’re going through. Imagine what your life might be like if you suddenly developed the same kind of illness.
The more you can understand their plight, the more you’ll be able to comfort and support them in the way they need.
“Let’s hang out.”
Be with them, talk with them like normal. Living with this kind of illness can be lonely and boring, so give them some of your time just to hang out and keep them company!
On the flip side, don’t be offended if they don’t have the energy to spend time with you. There will be times when as much as they want to, they simply can’t. This can be a tough choice to make for a person suffering with an invisible illness, as most people wouldn’t choose to be alone resting over hanging out with a loved one, so make sure they don’t feel guilty for the times they have to cancel plans.
“I believe you.”
Validation is something that your loved one needs. They live in a world where most people not only lack understanding, but many don’t believe that they’re even suffering. So by truly caring and believing them, you can help them feel stronger and to persevere through their illness.
They already feel weak, but when people (especially ones they love) make comments or act in a way that implies that they don’t think they’re really ill, it can be heartbreaking, so believing them is a very powerful way to show your love and support.
“I know you didn’t mean that” (maybe don’t say this one aloud, though!)
Sometimes, due to being ill day in day out for a long time, it takes its toll on a person’s temperament, and causes them to act out of character.
Perhaps they have a sudden outburst of emotion- anger or sadness, or perhaps they are overly distant or overly needy at times. It may hurt you, but please try not to take it personally.
This is much easier said than done, especially if you tried to help and were met with an unexpected reaction- but remember that being in constant pain can bring out the worst in people. So stay calm and supportive as much as possible, and you will help to ease their worries.
It can be tough when you have to see a loved one suffering in this way, and it can certainly cause divisions in relationships if we don’t put in effort. So if you have a friend or family member with an invisible illness, try to understand, spend time with them, believe them, and remain calm.