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Having a chronic illness like CFS is not just hard on the person with the illness, but it is also hard for their friends and family. Many of them want to help but they just don’t know what to do. I mean half of the time those with the illness don’t even know what to do!
CFS is such an unpredictable illness, what you need tomorrow might be totally different to what you needed today. Your energy can change not only from one day to the next, but from one hour to the next. This makes it so challenging for those who love and care for you. And what can unfortunately happen is that you lose the support of those close to you, at a time where you need it the most. I know this because it happened to me, both times I was sick with CFS I lost friends, and it really was only a few select people who stuck around and supported me.
I want to share with you 5 things that you can do to support someone who has CFS.
Acknowledge the illness.
Now this might seem like an obvious one, but you would be surprised how many people out there don’t believe that CFS is an actually illness. There are still so many people who believe you should just toughen up and push through – if you are one of those people please believe me when I say those with CFS have already tried to just push through and it doesn’t work. In fact pushing through is probably what tipped them over the edge to getting CFS, and if they could just simply push through they would.
If someone close to you tells you they have CFS and they need your support and understanding, please believe what they are saying, acknowledge that they are unwell, be there for them and show them that you are willing and able to offer support.
Offer practical support.
When you have a chronic illness sometimes, actually a lot of the time, asking for help can be really difficult. I know for me I didn’t want to feel like I was a burden on people, I knew that everyone was really busy and I didn’t want to add to that, but it really was the practical support that made such a difference. Don’t get me wrong it’s great to have someone to listen to what’s on your mind, and sometimes that is exactly what you need, but the practical support can be just as important.
This could be:
+ Offer to come over and hang their washing out.
+ Change the sheets in their bedroom.
+ Cook some meals for them.
+ Drive their kids to school one morning.
+ Look after their kids for a few hours on the weekend.
+ Do their grocery shopping.
+ Take their dog for a walk.
Don’t wait for them to ask, just do it. Obviously you don’t have to do all of those things every week, but every now and then will make the world of difference.
Send them a text message.
Having CFS can be a pretty lonely experience. You often have to dramatically reduce (or stop completely) your work hours or the time spent at school. By doing so you lose that social connection, you are often spending a large portion of each day resting by yourself. You can often feel like no one cares, or that all your friends have forgotten about you.
Receiving a simple text message that says
“hi, I have been thinking about you and am sending lots of love your way”
Can really do a lot to lift a persons spirits, sometimes it’s the smallest things that have the biggest impact.
Don’t stop inviting them to social events.
I know at times you may feel like you are ding the right thing by not inviting them – at least then they don’t have to say no, and they don’t feel like they are missing out. But please, let them make that decision, don’t make it for them. You never know how they may be feeling at the time, also by not inviting them they can feel left out, and like they are not wanted. They can start feeling like no one wants to hang out with them because they are sick. I know it’s hard to continuously have someone say no to your invites, but trust me it’s so much harder for the person who is missing out. Do not take them not coming out personally, if they could they would.
Try not to get frustrated by cancellations.
Again this is something that should not be taken personally. One of the most frustrating things about CFS is that how you are feeling can dramatically change each day. Your friend may have been feeling really good when she said yes to going out for coffee, but then on the day she could easily have woken up feeling terrible. It’s not that she doesn’t want to see you, she wants that more than anything, it’s just her body won’t let her. Please be understanding and offer to catch up when she is feeling better.
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There you have it, my 5 tips for supporting a friend with CFS. I would love to hear from you, what have your friends done that has been really helpful? Or maybe you are the supportive friend, how have you been able to offer support?