Chronic Illness Articles

March 27, 2009

Invisible Illness and Friends Who Don’t Get It: What to Do

by Lisa Copen

friends-women1If you live with an invisible illness, you may find the emotions of coping with people’s doubts about it can be harder to manage than the disease itself. Most of us with a chronic illness must eventually accept our condition. In order to live our best life, we need to educate ourselves about the disease and make well-researched decisions about treatment.

But we have no control over our loved ones when they choose not to accept our illness, or sometimes even acknowledge it. Their skepticism can last a lifetime and damage our self-worth and many relationships.

So, how do you cope with someone you love and care about won’t acknowledge the significance of your disease or even your illness at all? Here are four steps:

1. Go with it. Your life feels very serious right now, but don’t take your situation too seriously when around your friend. Unfortunately there is not a magical talk you can have that will make him instantly change his mind about your health situation. Most likely, the only way for him to rethink his perception of your illness is for him to observe you and your typical activities. Though your illness may be invisible, he may start to witness some visible symptoms. Perhaps you may have some new limitations, like being unable to walk a long distance; and rather than explaining what you can and cannot do, he might just see it.

2. Grow with it. Use this as a time to reflect on your own perceptions of people. When you are standing in line at the store and become irritated because “Surely no one here knows how hard it is just for me to stand!” think twice. Nearly 1 in 2 people in the USA have a chronic illness and about 96% of it is invisible, so the odds are that someone in line likely is experiencing the same chronic pain and fatigue. Also, what situations are your friends experiencing that you don’t understand? A child with a disability, the affair of a spouse, the loss of a job-all are life-altering and the odds are that your friends could use your empathy and support during this time.

3. Get over it. It is easy to obsess over the fact that no one understands what your daily chronic pain is like. Save yourself a lot of grief and don’t do it. We would all like a loved one to be able to slip inside are skin for twenty-four hours, but this level of understanding of our disease will never occur. If you began to resent people who don’t understand, soon all your friendships will be tainted. Do not take a friend’s lack of empathy personally, even though it feels personal. You cannot change someone’s mind; you can only control your own behavior, so make certain you have conversations that you won’t regret.

4. Get on with it. No material things in this world can replace relationships you have. If a loved one doesn’t acknowledge your illness, it’s true that the depth of your friendship will never be what it could be. But if the relationship is healthy in other ways, and one worth saving, you can keep it.

The odds are, at some point in your friend’s life, a health issue will occur and suddenly he will have a glimpse into what your life is like. Allow him to feel comfortable coming to you for support and encouragement and don’t use the opportunity to say, “I told you so.”

Go with it. Grow with it. Get over it. Get on with it.

Relationships with those who don’t understand the seriousness of your illness can exist. Be positive, accepting him for what he’s able to give to the relationship, and have reasonable expectations. Someday, this may prove to be one of your most special friendships.

This article is by Lisa Copen and can be reprinted at no cost, if you leave everything exactly “as is” including this footer. Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you sign up to receive HopeNotes, Rest Ministries weekly ezine. Also be sure to check out Hope Endures, Rest Ministries weekly radio program every Tues and National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week.

If you Twitter, be sure to check out Illness Twitters.

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4 Comments »

  1. This a wonderful article and right on. A person with an invisible illness has enough to cope with without having to worry about how others are accepting or not accepting their illness. It should be “their” problem not the problem of the person suffering.

    Comment by mary hall — April 19, 2009 @ 5:24 pm | Reply

  2. the article in this link was very helpful to me in understanding what chronic illness was like. i’d recommend it to anyone dealing with this issue.

    http://butyoudontlooksick.com/navigation/BYDLS-TheSpoonTheory.pdf

    Comment by infamousqbert — June 3, 2009 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

  3. Thank you! This is great advice!

    Comment by Young Wife — June 18, 2009 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

  4. this is so cool. i have a sister who lives with a disease and this just answered my question

    Comment by sarah — December 26, 2009 @ 5:17 am | Reply


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