Supporting Friends with
Physical Ailments

Man in Wheelchair

Physical ailments can be difficult to deal with for those who suffer from them.  But when a disease is more obvious, or even embarrassing, it can really take its toll.

When the person suffering is a friend or someone close to you, of course you want to be supportive and helpful.  But how do you do this without overstepping boundaries?

Just Be There

Sometimes, the simple gift of your time is enough to lift spirits.  Especially if you join in an activity that offers your loved one a mental vacation from the illness.

Perhaps a movie, a card game, board game or, if possible, a walk in the park or at the beach.

Your time spent together doesn't need to include conversation about your friend's disease, unless she wants to discuss it.  In the mean time, target pleasant topics that the two of you enjoy.

What to Say - Or Not

When someone chooses to discuss his illness, listening is key.  He may not be asking for sympathy, just a sympathetic ear.

Realize the problem may be causing pain, discomfort, and embarrassment.  So don't stare, ask prying questions, or give unsolicited advice. 

Avoid saying something that suggests you know what your friend is feeling unless you truly know from experience.  If she describes her bout with Crohn's Disease or colitis, she probably isn't interested in hearing you compare that to your recent stomach virus.

And if someone makes a joke about his own condition, you don't necessarily need to join in.  He may be covering his embarrassment or sensitivity about his physical ailment and your joining in could ruin his cover.  In your friendliest of ways, let him have his joke then move the conversation forward.

People who are suffering do not want to be corrected if they eat something you don't think is good for them.  Unless you are a caregiver, keep those opinions to yourself.  However, if you are very close, tell the person you have a subject to bring up and ask permission to do so.  Choose a quiet, relaxed time.  And do your best not to be discouraging.

When your advice is requested, and you feel up to the task, give it in a caring, authentic manner.  You have been trusted to do so.

When Out and About

. . . my youthful passion for exploring the possibilities of my life have been humbled and now,  four decades later and post 22 years of trembling from what is called Parkinson's Disease, the lines between fear and respect have become blurred . . .

A former student

Those suffering from physical ailments may want or need to shop, work, do errands, or go out for social enjoyment. They may want to be just with you.  

If you are out with a group of people who do not know about your friend's illness, there is no reason to say anything unless it's obvious that something is wrong at the time.

Don't ask someone who is ill to do something she can't, but don't assume you know her limits.  Let her be the guide.  For example, if you are out shopping and your loved one says she needs to take a break, act immediately to honor the request.  Find a bench or nearby cafe where you can sit and rest for a while.

If a person asks for assistance, of course give it, but don't offer unless asked.  Or when help is obviously needed ask, "How can I help?" or "What's the best way I can help?"  It may be that you need say nothing and simply take a swift action, like swiping a ream of paper off a high shelf when your coworker in a wheelchair is refilling the paper in the printer.

The rules of common courtesy should always be applied

Avoid judging or seeming fearful of someone who has an obvious condition, but also avoid over-sympathizing.

Don't hold back from being your friendly, cheerful self.  Sharing a smile, or a little laughter, may be the best of medicines!  

And bottom line: always treat others as you would want to be treated.


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