My do’s and don’ts for supporting sick friends and family members

Ever wonder how to support a sick friend? Here's a good place to start.

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by Lara Govendo |

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Throughout my journey with cystic fibrosis (CF) and double-lung transplant, I’ve learned what does and doesn’t work for me when it comes to receiving support from others.

Following are a few guidelines that have been effective for me, and I hope they’ll be useful to you, too, whether you’re on the supporting side or the one who needs it. The list is not exhaustive, of course, and I welcome your feedback!

How you can help

Please do offer help. Daily living activities are hard when I’m sick, which was especially true prior to my transplant. Helping with simple tasks like doing laundry, cleaning, or cooking takes weight off the heavy load I’m carrying. Dropping off meals or groceries and helping with things I’m unable to do is a gift.

Please don’t assume that I do nothing with my time. A common misconception is that when I was on disability and unable to work, I did nothing all day or could do whatever I wanted to. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My days were filled with breathing treatments, doctor appointments, and exhaustion from fighting just to breathe. Every day was a marathon, and being sick was a full-time job. I still have rough days when I can’t do anything.

I love it when my friends plan something I can partake in. My friends understand that I don’t always feel well. They don’t care what we’re doing, they just want to spend time with me. It makes me feel special, included, and unashamed for having to tailor plans to my health needs.

Don’t hit me with toxic positivity. I know it’s going to be all right at some point in life, but if I’m struggling, then that time obviously isn’t now. It’s invalidating and makes it hard to trust you with the truth about how I’m feeling.

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Give me permission to have bad days. Knowing that I don’t have to paint a smile on my face and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not tells me that it’s OK to feel what I’m experiencing.

Don’t tell me that I’m strong, can handle it, or that I’ve been through worse. Just because I’m used to battling through difficult situations doesn’t make it easier to conquer new ones.

Do invite me to join festivities. Prior to my transplant, I had to cancel plans most of the time because I was sick or in the hospital. But my friends kept inviting me so I would know they were thinking of me and wanted me there. This meant the world to me.

Please don’t try to fix me — I’m not broken. When I trust you enough to tell you how I’m feeling, it is a giant leap of faith for me. But if I hear one more time that I just need to sleep or should take ibuprofen (which I can’t take because of kidney issues), I might just explode.

Please listen to me vent, because sometimes I really just need a space to talk. Support sounds like “that’s valid,” “that must be really hard,” or “what do you need in this moment?”

Please don’t make me comfort you about my uncomfortable circumstances. It shuts down my ability to share what it’s really like for me. I can’t be your support person given my own suffering.

I invite you to make your own list so that when loved ones ask how they can best support you, you’ll have an answer. We all deserve to have people in our lives that will love and support us. Everyone — not just those of us with chronic health conditions — will need it at some point in life. We all matter.

Do you have additional suggestions about communicating support needs with loved ones? Please share in the comments below. 

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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