Seven Ways to Support the Newly Diagnosed
Someone I care deeply about was recently diagnosed with a chronic health problem. Though the disease is different than mine, it shares many common elements: it’s invisible, it’s currently incurable, and it impacts his health and well being on a daily basis. Watching him navigate the early stages of disease diagnosis and management took me back to my own early days of chronic illness – days full of pain and tests and appointments and uncertainty. Days in which I didn’t know what was wrong with me, didn’t know how to fix it, and had little to no expectation of what my life would look like in the coming months and years. This got me thinking: How could I, who had been close to where he is now, best support him through such a difficult time?
This question is harder to answer than we might imagine, even for those of us who deal with our own chronic conditions on a daily or near daily basis. Those who have no experience with chronic illness at all may find it nearly impossible to answer. After all, how do you be supportive without condemning, negating, or belittling your loved one’s experiences? How can you assist without smothering?
- Trust in your loved one’s experiences. You’re not going to be able to see the symptoms associated with your loved one’s condition unless they are very severe. That’s the nature of invisible illness, and it’s something that can make those of us who suffer from them feel defensive and/or alone. Trust in what your loved one tells you. If he says he is in pain, believe him. If she says she’s nauseous or dizzy, believe her. This may sound simple, but it can be one of the most challenging things to do in the long-term. It’s also one of the biggest ways you can show your support.
- Ask (the right) questions. “How are you feeling?” Is one of the most common questions asked of the chronically ill, but it is also one of the most annoying. (“Have you tried ____?” is just as bad.) The truth is your loved one probably feels awful and is tired of being reminded of it. Instead of asking a generic “how are you” question, try asking: “Is there anything I can help you with today?” “What would make you feel loved and/or cared for right now?” “Is there anything you wish you had right at this moment?” “I’m heading ____, what can I pick up for you?”
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