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

Aug 13, 2008
If 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.

Those with illness, however, have no ability to make others except the illness or even acknowledge it. We are loved ones are skeptical about the existence or seriousness of her disease, it can be devastating. It can wound our self-worth and cause problems in our 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. Don't take yourself and your predicament too seriously when you're around the person. Understand that there is no magical discussion you can have that will make him change his mind. The odds are, the only way he will change his mind is by simply observing you and noticing your invisible illness as it begins to show some visible side effects. Your limitations, such as walking a long-distance, may become obvious without you having to explain it.

2. Grow with it. Use this as an opportunity to reflect on how you perceive other people and what you assume about their abilities. For example, when you're standing in line at the store and feeling wiped out, it is easy to assume "No one else knows how hard this is for me!" Surprisingly, nearly 1 in two people live with an illness and about 96% of the painful diseases are invisible. So the odds are that there are people who do actually understand how you feel. Also, think about what situations your friends are experiencing that you don't really understand. Is a friend suffering from a spouse who has had an affair? Do they have a parent who has Alzheimer's? Or have they recently lost a job? All of these events dramatically change one's life and your friends can use your empathy and understanding.

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. Life is precious and short and no material things in your life can replace friends and family. It is true that the intimacy level in your relationship will not ever be high if your illness is not at least believed to exist. But if you still want a relationship, and it's a healthy one in other ways, it can happen.

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.

You can have relationships with those who don't understand the depth of your illness. Just accept the person for what he can give at the moment and have reasonable expectations for the relationship. In time, it may prove to be one of your most precious friendships.
About the Author
Get a free list of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from "Beyond Casseroles" by Lisa Copen when you signup for to HopeNotes invisible illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa founded Invisible Illness Week
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