Getting diagnosed with a long-term disease can be a devastating and painful experience for anyone. So if your loved one has recently been diagnosed with a chronic disease, understand that they are struggling physically and mentally. While their physical health deteriorates, their mental health is also taking its toll, and you may witness it through their occasional emotional outbursts.
Feeling hopeless and helpless in this situation is typical; seeing someone you love suffering is no park in the garden. However, you can always help them by showing your unrelenting support and assistance to get them through this difficult time. Here are some ways to support a loved one with a chronic disease.
- Learn more about their disease
Learning about the disease they are going through can go a long way when supporting your loved ones. It is one of the best ways to show them you care about how their lives get impacted and changed as the disease progresses. Besides, explaining their symptoms from scratch to everyone who asks can be very exhausting for the patients. So showing that you educated yourself about their feelings or suffering is a good reflection of your support.
Moreover, some diseases result from an unfortunate workplace or medical negligence and add to the frustration and grief of the patient as someone else’s negligence caused it. For instance, older adults who worked in the construction sector or the army might have been exposed to asbestos, causing the deadly cancer mesothelioma. About 3000 people get diagnosed with mesothelioma annually. If your loved one has friends or coworkers who have had this cancer, they’ll understand the symptoms of mesothelioma right away and might hit a slump. This is because it won’t be something that hit them out of nowhere; it might be something they had been dreading or expecting. And at this time, the last thing you’d want to do is have them explain everything to you all over again.
- Show compassion and empathy
Don’t just tell them you care, show them you do. Show your concern for their situation and your motivation to help relieve their suffering. Anybody can string along a few words of sympathy, but only a few go out of their way to help. Even if you don’t know how to help, ask them what they need. Show them they can lean on you and that you are here for them whenever they need anything- whether it be trips to the doctor or just someone for company.
Showing empathy is also one of the best ways you can emotionally support your loved one through their suffering. Put yourself in their shoes- as the phrase goes. Having someone who understands their experience can make them feel supported.
- Learn to listen actively
Sometimes, all a patient wants is for someone to hear them out. Illness has a way of making you feel lonely. Because your life becomes drastically different from the defined “normal,” you can begin to feel alienated and alone in your experience.
If your loved one wishes to talk to you about their experiences or feelings, it is their way of letting you into their world. Listen to what they have to say all the way through. If they wish to rant about their exhausting or painful day, patiently listen to them without talking about your own. Be mindful of listening to them actively- if they feel your mind is elsewhere or you are not interested, they may feel reluctant to talk with you about themselves the next time. Supporting someone struggling is all about being there- and sometimes, being there just means lending an ear.
- Give them space when they require it
You may sometimes find your loved one shrugging off your efforts to help or snapping at you for the slightest things. Sometimes, they may ask you to leave outright. Feeling hurt in these instances is a normal response, but you need to understand that chronic illness can put one in a loop of difficult emotions. Because the sudden change in their life is so enormous, it can be overwhelming to adapt. They must live with the truth of their condition and submit to medicines and all the other treatment procedures. Having people around to care for them all the time can also feel suffocating sometimes. Therefore, your loved one will often feel trapped in the highs and lows of depression, anxiety, impatience, or frustration.
When trying to comfort them does not work, it is best to leave them alone and give them the space they need. All their built-up frustration needs an outlet, and although they don’t wish to hurt you, you may feel its burn in the process.
- Avoid toxic positivity
Going through negative thoughts and emotions is a part of every patient’s journey, and avoiding them stunts actual progress in understanding and overcoming how they feel about their disease. So instead of telling your loved one to remain positive, tell them it’s okay not to feel okay. Instead of telling them that it is what it is, tell them you know it is hard, but you believe they can pull through it.
- Encourage them
Getting through every day while struggling with a disease takes a lot of strength and resilience. Recognizing the efforts of your loved ones to adapt to their new circumstances can play an enormous role in encouraging them to keep going. It is easy to lose hope during difficult times, but celebrating their small wins can keep their hope alive for a long time.
Show them that you believe in them, validate and celebrate their small achievements or signs of progress, and remind them they have the strength to keep going on- especially when they feel like they do not.
While supporting your loved one with a chronic disease, be mindful of not making their disease the sole focus of your relationship. Always remember they are more than their illness- they are still the same person they were before their diagnosis, only with changed circumstances. Be willing to take care of them and help them out, but also take some time out to spend quality time with them. Watch movies with them, play games, converse, and treat them like you used to before. Illness is only an added aspect of your relationship, and nothing else has to change.