By: J.A., Writer for Hope Instilled
It is the time of year where people are frequently attending holiday parties and family get-togethers to celebrate the holiday season. For someone who is chronically sick, this can be a stressful time of year. Chronic illness and relationships are a difficult combination. Here are some tips on maintaining healthy relationships while chronically sick.
The struggle is real… when you have too much pain to attend all events, family or friends don’t understand what you are going through, or you just have the family drama that creates added stress.
Don’t feel guilty if you can’t make it to all the holiday activities, if you have to leave early, or need to make accommodations to attend. Any family member or friend who tries to make you feel guilty, and doesn’t understand how much it hurts for you not to be there or have to leave early, isn’t worth your guilt or your time.
With the new year around the corner, make it a resolution to cut out any toxic family members or friends even if it is a parent who raised you. You owe it to yourself to be happy, and if that person is dragging down your self-esteem or happiness it is time to limit your exposure to them or remove them from your life altogether. If you haven’t already, make one last effort to really explain to them how you feel in a calm way (setting anger aside, just explaining your pain). The way you say and explain things does matter. This could be in-person or in a letter if writing is easier for you.
Try not to let people’s words get the best of you. As chronic pain suffers, we can really be hurt by the things people say like, “Are you feeling better yet?”, “Have you tried such and such…for your pain?” I know there are things you are sick of hearing from people because they don’t understand the concept of ongoing pain. But, comments like this are often said because they actually care, and don’t know what else to say. Think about how much you struggle with what to say when someone has lost a loved one. There is never the perfect, right thing to say. Many of us struggle with finding the right words to show that we care. I’ve been hurt just like you from a person’s comments on my chronic illness, but I try and stop myself and ask “Is this someone who truly cares about me and may just misunderstand? Or is this a person who truly has a lack of empathy?" If it is someone who truly cares, find a way of nicely explaining your situation. They might actually listen, ask questions to try and understand what you are going through, and know just the right thing to say next time.
It is easy with a chronic illness to fall into either the hole of caring too much about yourself that you forget to show others how grateful you are for having them in your life and helping you, or the hole of not taking proper care of yourself because of other people’s expectations, or your own high expectations.
I know that feeling of ultimate loneliness, feeling like no one understands, and I know how easy it is to dismiss people who actually care. When I was really depressed and in pain it was hard at times to be grateful for anything. But, I was grateful for my husband who cared even though he didn’t understand, and I did my best to show it. If you are lucky enough to have people who actually care, make sure they know their compassion or empathy matters to you. Don’t take it for granted. They may struggle emotionally or mentally too, just seeing you in pain. Tell others how much you appreciate what they say or do, or show them with a thoughtful gift, a card, or a gesture.
Putting your needs first at times isn’t selfish, it’s called self-love (Take a look at The Importance of Self-Love When Chronically Sick). As long as you show your compassion and gratefulness for others and communicate openly, it is okay to put your needs first. You might not be able to all the time. However, when you are really struggling with physical or mental pain, you need to listen to your body and do what feels right at that moment for you. Your body will thank you for it later. Think of your body as a separate entity, one that requests things of you, and has its own set of needs. Respect it, love it, and take care of it, and you will be better off for it. You only get one, so you have to do your best to meet its needs.