Last week, I posted a question on my Instagram story asking, “how can people help you on hard days?” I was blown away by the quality and quantity of the responses I received. One thing I’ve learned from my own chronic illness journey is that often, the most effective forms of support are not intuitive.
The people who love you the most might feel their hearts cracking wide open as they watch you suffer on a hard day, but they probably find themselves at a loss as to what they can actually do to help ease some of that pain.
It can be unrealistic (and sometimes downright impossible) to brainstorm or to even articulate your needs in your hardest moments. This compounds the confusion and frustration for both you and the people by your side, as you struggle for relief and they struggle to find a way to help.
One thing my support squad and I have learned over the years is that planning ahead for those tough days is crucial.
In order to help you develop or add to your “Flare Day Support Toolbox,” I want to share some of the ideas our community suggested and some of my own personal favorites.
I’ve discussed many of these with my #clinicalcopilots so they know what they can do to support me on the inevitable tough, chronic illness days. I’ve found my support squad is immensely appreciative when I can name concrete ways that they can help me, and I hope this list gives you and yours some new ideas.
Some of the main themes that came up over and over again included helping with food (this might have been number one), open-hearted listening and check-ins (via text/phone/quick visit) to remind us we are not forgotten and we are not alone.
Providing quality support doesn’t always take a lot of time or effort. Strategic, well-executed and minimal actions can actually have a profound impact and can bring relief and comfort to someone stuck at home in a world of hurt.
So, scroll away. Below are some great ideas (from all of you) about what other people can do to make your day easier when you are having a flare. I encourage you to come up with your own list (of those things that will help you the most) and to share that list with your own crew of clinical co-pilots.
50 Ways to Support Someone You Love on a Hard Day:
1. Ask me what errands need to be done and then help me by doing one for me.
2. Remind me that my mind has the power to think hopeful thoughts and give me infinite hugs.
3. Listen without offering advice.
4. Let me vent over text about how hard it is to be going through this.
5. Offer to help me with a task, make me a cup of tea or just spend a few moments being present with me.
6. Respect that my rest time is my rest time, not an open social invitation.
7. Hugs. Lots of hugs.
8. Text me and tell me that you think I’m doing a great job handling a really hard situation.
9. Bring me food and smiles.
10. Offer to swing by my house and take my dog on a walk around the block.
11. Bring dinner to my house, run errands, send a text check-in or help me clean.
12. Show compassion when listening to how I feel.
13. Be patient with me.
14. Surprise me with a little act of kindness. Pick up an iced tea, fresh flowers for my bedroom, a warm drink from Starbucks, order in dinner.
15. Bring me food.
16. Feed me!
17. Meals. Meals are the hardest.
18. Bring me food and talk to me.
19. Just be calm and show love and more love by being present and available if needed (text, phone).
20. Tell me you believe what I am experiencing (I never tire of hearing this) and give me your shoulder to lean on.
21. Send me funny memes or videos. Listen. Offer gentle hugs.
22. Check in with me (especially after hours and in the dark) and also bring me a small snack.
24. Keep me distracted with quiet talking, hand-holding and gentle laughter.
25. Validate what I am experiencing with your words. (In-person, phone or text all work.)
26. Listen to how I’m feeling without trying to fix it.
27. Be there, even in silence. Just let me feel and know I am not alone.
28. Avoid offering suggestions of things I should try or trying to come up with solutions.
29. Please don’t judge, don’t insult and don’t make me feel bad for not being able to do. Accept my truth.
30. Remind me you love me, give me space and quiet and remind me it is OK if I can’t do things right now.
31. Send me something that makes me laugh.
32. Reassure me that you completely understand anything I have to cancel and miss out on.
33. Turn down the music, television show or conversation without me having to ask. (I feel so bad asking…)
34. Remember that your compassion, patience and empathy go a long way.
35. Tag me in funny memes.
36. Just come over and talk with me or offer to watch a movie together.
37. Help me with house tasks so I can rest.
38. Take my kids out so I can have a few hours of quiet.
39. Organize dinner.
40. Send me a podcast, audiobook or TV recommendation.
41. Ask me if there is anything you can pick up for me at the pharmacy.
42. Remind me to do some of my at-home treatments like TENS unit, Cefaly, essential oils or meditation.
43. Bring me my favorite treat (like a vanilla chai) and give me space to be without any responsibilities or to-dos.
44. Lots of hugs and help make decisions for me. (Decision fatigue is so very real…)
45. Double, triple or quadruple text me even if I haven’t responded. A simple “thinking of you” can be a lifeline when I am hurting intensely.
46. Pick me up some food and offer to bring it to my house.
47. Offer to bring me a fresh ice pack from the freezer and refill my essential oil diffuser.
48. Have patience with me and give me the time and space I need to work through it.
49. Be mindful of being quiet around the house. (Clanky in the kitchen; volume of speaking.)
50. Please don’t take my absence personally; know how much it’s hurting me to miss out and how much your understanding can ease that pain.
I really hope these are helpful to you; I know it was helpful for me to see so many of the things that help me also make a difference for you guys. Since being able to identify and communicate some of these strategies to my loved ones, it’s really helped all of us to more smoothly navigate flare days.
Some of these things can be uncomfortable to ask for (at least for me!) because it’s easy to feel like a burden. But in general, I’ve found that saying these things out loud is actually very well received by the people who love me.
Flare days test our physical and emotional patience and sometimes the only way through it is through it. The tools on this list can help make what is an extremely uncomfortable experience a little more comfortable and a bit more tolerable.
On a flare day, our world becomes very tiny and the pain can seem like the only thing that exists; but when our loved ones help in any one of the ways named above, it can remind us there is a big world, outside of our pain, and it is filled with people who love and care about us enough to walk with us through that pain until we are on the other side again.
A version of this article was originally published on the author’s blog.