When you’re ill: how can you ask for help? (chronic illness and protracted withdrawal syndromes)

I’m sharing another one of Toni Bernhard’s, author of How to Be Sick, helpful posts from Psychology Today. In this post she talks about how when one is ill and someone offers to help we often have to, in turn, help them out and let them know what we need. I have, indeed, found this to be true.

I unfortunately can’t agree that everyone who offers to help means it unfortunately. I found that my illness really did a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. There will always be people who cannot deal with illness. Let those people go in peace and try to have compassion for them. They are dealing with their own fears.

But for enough people it’s true and they often need prompting in order to know how to be helpful. It’s worth reaching out and asking people for the help you need if they’ve offered it and then you’ve not heard again. Once you get the hang of it it becomes easier and it’s good to find out we’ve might not been as abandoned as we might have thought.

For me, I’m still sometimes disappointed by the number of people I thought were friends who simply could not abide my illness, but as I move further into the journey I find great joy in those who really are my friends and it’s clear this transition will continue. Some people, too, need time to come around and if we open our hearts to them when they’re ready to come around healing can happen for both them and you.

This is an excerpt of what Toni Bernhard had to say:

Here’s what I’ve learned about people who offer to help:

1. They’re sincere in their offer: they mean it.

2. The responsibility falls on me, not on them, to follow-up.

3. The best way to take them up on their offer is to give them a specific task to do.

Numbers 1 and 2 are consistent with my experience when I was in a position to help others: I meant it but I rarely followed-up, sometimes because I got distracted and sometimes because I thought I might be bothering them.

As for number 3, friends and relatives aren’t mind readers. We need to tell them what to do. read the rest

The key part for me here was discovering it really does help to be specific about a task. And it’s not something we intuitively understand when we are sick and in great need so it’s something we need to practice. Read the rest of Toni’s post which goes into much greater detail with additional suggestions and with an example from her life.

I thought I would use this little post to repost one of my archival tab pages that has more on the subject of how those of us who become chronically ill feel so isolated so frequently. It seems there are stages of acute, chronic illness and acceptance around the isolation we often find ourselves in. I’m still very isolated and much of it is by necessity. I cannot be around people much, it’s draining on my very limited energetic resources.

You will find that if you read all these posts on the topic of isolation that I’ve written that early on I’ve come from a place of dismay and pain and anger too, but much of that has changed now as time passes and I learn how to live this new life that is now mine.  It remains difficult but how I understand  it has changed significantly.

Some of my early posts take the stance of educating those who are not ill by making suggestions as to how to approach their sick loved ones or friends. Those suggestions are still good, but the fact is when we’re sick (and always) we really cannot change the behavior of others and the best way to change things is by changing ourselves.

So I’ve been working on stopping wishing and hoping that people would be different and now I try to be different. That means reaching out a bit more often rather than waiting for people to come to me. There were times in my illness that that was essentially impossible so the earlier posts are still valid. It would indeed be nice if our friends and loved ones were more proactive in our times of great need. That desire we all have when we are so gravely ill is deeply human and natural. For me if I didn’t have my husband caring for me I would’ve been institutionalized. The fact is we do need people. So go easy on yourself if you’re still in that place and take baby steps to move on through it.

Here is that archive collection that I’ve simply cut and pasted from it’s page:

The isolation and sense of abandonment many people deal with when sick with protracted withdrawal illness.

This is a collection of posts that were all very popular and broadly shared among people in protracted withdrawal illness on community boards. I also still get people writing to me and asking me to remind me where they can find them on the blog. In fact the reason I’m making this page here now is because both yesterday and today two different people wrote to me asking me for the links to these pieces.

I wish isolation and the feeling of abandonment was not so common when we are ill, but it is and it does help to know that we are not alone in this phenomena so I’m sharing the posts I’ve done on the topic here.

There is both validation for those who feel abandoned here and also hope and inspiration that it will pass and we will all be better people after we regain our health and perspective.

●  In the near absence of friendship…

●  When I think of my relationships I have no regrets

●  When Friends Disappear During a Health Crisis

●  Living with chronic physical illness, why are we invisible?

More recently I added a post in which I’ve come to have compassion on some of the painful behavior our loved ones show in the face of our illness:

●  Are your heart and mind open to others?

Also in time as our souls heal we can learn to cope better and better with the limitations our bodies still have:

●  Living well while being sick


A related collection of links:  Information and inspiration for the chronically ill

These archives  now span close to five years. They are a record of a time in my life when I was learning and transforming at a rate unlike any other time in my life. I say this as a way of disclaimer. In the earlier years of this blog I am processing shock and dismay. In the early years I am undisputedly angry. I have worked out much of that and see things in a much less judgmental manner now. This continues to evolve. I sometimes want to take down old posts because they no longer convey how I feel, but I realize that they may still be helpful to people who are going through something similar now. The journey got me to where I am today, it’s just odd to have some of it in writing here for all to see. 


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