If you have a friend that is chronically ill, it’s likely that you don’t want to help them feel worse. At least I hope you wouldn’t. But, perhaps you are just mean like that. If you are a good friend you will read this list and think about whether you have done or said these things and avoid doing/saying them again the future.
- Tell them they should get out more – Your friend wants to get out more. They hate having to cancel plans. So, telling them they should get out more is sure to make them feel guilty and stressed out. It’s also likely to make them want to avoid you so that they don’t have to hear those words again in the future.
- Comment on their messy house – Chronic illness brings chronic pain and fatigue. Those two things can make everyday tasks very difficult but your friend will do as much as they can. So, when you comment on their messy house you are sure to elicit some guilt and make them feel incredibly embarrassed. Such comments are also a sure to keep you from getting invited back to their home.
- Comment on how lazy they are – After all your friend just hangs out at home and watches TV all day and you are jealous, so make sure to let them know. Telling your friend they are lazy is a quick way to piss them off and shut them down. Your friend isn’t lazy, so it won’t get them to do more because they are already doing all that they can, but it will get them to avoid you.
- Tell they they just need to push themselves harder – Your friend is pushing themselves every day. Often just getting out of bed is more than they feel they can do. Pushing won’t help them feel better, in fact it usually makes them feel worse because of something called post-exertional malaise. Even though malaise sounds like something akin to laziness, it’s not. It’s a real medical thing that often comes with chronic illness. Your friend has to pace herself so that she can do as much as she can, and trust me she is doing all that she can. But, that’s OK tell her she needs to push herself more, she’ll just resent you for it.
- Make them feel like their illness is all their fault – When you tell your friend that all they have to do is change their habits, diet, etc you are telling them that their bad choices caused their illness. While making changes may make them feel better in the long run, you telling them what choices to make won’t make them change. It will make them feel guilty and if you keep it up it will make them avoid you.
- Discount their symptoms and feelings – Telling your friend that their pain and fatigue is just a sign of getting older, or making comments like “we all get tired sometimes” discounts their feelings and symptoms and let’s your friend know that you don’t believe what they are expressing is real. It also lets them know that you don’t really care about what they are telling you and is a good way to get them to stop sharing.
- Talk instead of listen – When you always talk about yourself and never give your friend a chance to share how they are feeling it lets your friend know that you aren’t interested in them. It reminds him to be quiet and keep his feelings to himself. Eventually, it will also lead to your friend avoiding you, because people who always talk about themselves are just draining. After all, that’s why you do it. You know if you let your friend talk about herself she’ll just go on and on and you’ll feel drained when you leave.
- Be passive aggressive – Comments like “We never see you anymore. It gets lonely out here.”, “We understand you don’t feel well; guess we’ll just stay home, too.”, or “You’re just using this as an excuse not to work.” are sure to piss off your friend and let them know that you don’t give a damn about them, but only care about yourself and making your friend feel worse. So, keep them up and your friend will continue to avoid you as much as possible because you are doing a great job of making them feel worse.
- Stop including them in plans – Why do you even bother asking your friend to join you anymore when they are always too tired/ sick to come out anyway? It’s not like they want to be included just to feel like you care (they do, by the way). When you stop including your friend in plans it tells them that you’ve given up on them, that you are no longer interested. It also makes them feel like you don’t care. When they realize that no one else cares and everyone has given up on them they will soon give up on their self, too.
- Keep asking them how they feel – It’s sure to change at some point right? Be sure to ask them how they feel as often as possible because it’s bound to change from moment to moment. They can’t possibly feel that bad constantly, right? Your friend doesn’t want to be reminded about how bad they feel, they just want to enjoy their time with you. Repeatedly asking them how they feel is asking them to think about their pain instead of their joy.
- Talk really loud – Chances are your ill friend isn’t deaf, so speaking really loud is important for making them feel like you don’t understand them (or that they are too dumb to understand you). Many chronic illnesses also cause increased sensitivity to noise so your loud voice will wear them out faster and have them back in bed so you can leave quickly. While you are at it be sure to bring your screaming children over to visit to make you friend feel awful really fast. The increased sensitivity that often comes with chronic illness is one of the reasons your friend tires easily from noisy, bright, active places.
- Make them feel guilty – There are a million ways you can make a friend feel guilty, and if you are a good friend you know just how to do it. Commenting on how you had to come to them because they couldn’t get out, how dirty their house is, what they should do, need to do, or could do are just a few of the ways to quickly make them feel guilty. It really doesn’t take much at all because your friend is already living in a perpetual state of guilt as a result of their illness.
Just a reminder, these are all things you shouldn’t do. I wrote this a bit tongue-in-cheek and it should be taken that way. However, the advice is real. The hope is that you would not want to do any of these things and that you would not want to make your chronically ill friend (or loved one) feel worse. We know you don’t mean to, but hopefully by being aware of the many ways that it can happen, you’ll learn to avoid them, so that we don’t have to avoid you.