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Can You be Friends If They Think You Are Faking Your Illness?

Aug 20, 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 what is the best way to respond when someone you care about refuses to accept that you really are ill and that your life is changing dramatically because of it? Here are four steps to best cope:

1. Go with it. Though the seriousness of your illness is significant under your roof, it isn't that important to others. And there's no magical conversation you can have with the person that will make him change his mind. The most likely way your friend will accept that your illness is real, is by observing you. For example, your invisible illness may begin to have some visible side effects. When he sees you struggle to get up out of a chair, don't comment; just let him take it all in.

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. You may find yourself thinking "No one understands!" so frequently that you are missing out on new friendships. Save yourself the grief and don't obsess over how much people sympathize or if they do it appropriately. Though we would all like a loved one to be able to experience what it would be like to slip inside our skin for twenty-four hours, it's never going to happen. If people around you feel like they can never please you, soon you won't have any relationships left. You cannot change how someone else thinks; you only have control over your own behavior. So make sure your conversations are full of grace.

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 that in time your friend will eventually have his own health crisis, and have some level of understanding about what you have faced on a daily basis. He may even turn to you for advice. Be supportive and encouraging. Don't say "I told you so."

Go with it. Grow with it. Get over it. Get on with it.

Relationships with those who don't understand the seriousness of your illness can exist. Be positive, accepting him for what he's able to give to the relationship, and have reasonable expectations. Someday, this may prove to be one of your most special friendships.
About the Author
Receive 200 tips from "Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend" by Lisa Copen when you sign up for HopeNotes chronic illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the founder of Invisible Illness Awareness Week
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