Communication is Key
More than 24 million people in the United States have an autoimmune disease, according to the NIH. And even more experience chronic illness.1 In today’s age, it is hard to find someone that isn’t personally affected by this, but somehow we still find it difficult to gain a support system or be there for our loved ones suffering.
As humans, we rely so much on visual representation when it comes to feeling emotion. We see pain, happiness, sadness, and everything in between expressed physically. When someone has a traumatic injury we can see the effects of it to know the person truly is hurt, but how do we understand something we cannot see?
I was recently speaking to someone close to me about this and it got me thinking about how I have coped with an illness for 20 years and have spent a lot of that time thinking people wouldn’t believe me if I told them how I feel. They would think I am crazy, melodramatic, or attention-seeking if I actually expressed the pain, the brain fog, the fatigue, etc. I decided I wanted to break that barrier and trust people who would try to understand and help me instead of holding it all in. It was only a few years ago when I started seeing how heartfelt and caring people could be, it made me realize how much people want to understand and help, they just generally do not know how.
The power of communication
This is where the power of communication comes in. Communication is so important in all relationships, it doesn’t have to be a romantic partner or a family member. It is a vital tool for surviving in this world. We have to be open in expressing how we feel to those we care about and they also need to express to us what they need. We all communicate so differently and everything is subject to a different reaction based on who you are talking to, we often forget to listen and comprehend what others are saying instead we are just waiting to respond.
Examples of how to express yourself
How to talk about pain
Whether you are suffering from chronic illness or trying to be a support system for someone suffering you both have equal accountability in talking to each other. If you are suffering from pain, for example, express that in a manner that allows your support system to understand and don’t be afraid to say what you need from them (ex: I am in a lot of pain today and I really just need you to be patient with me.) Chances are they are going to be more than happy to accommodate that but they would have had no idea that was what was making you irritable or distracted had you not expressed that beforehand.
How to show support
Now, communication is a 2-sided street so here is another example. Your friend has just told you they have been diagnosed with lupus and is very scared about their future. This is where you need to express to them how you want to help (ex: "I am so sorry, I may not fully understand what you are going through, but I want to understand as best as possible so I can help you with whatever you need from me.")
The amount of relief your friend immediately feels knowing you are there but are not forcing a cure or remedy down their throat is astronomical, you are not mocking them or comparing them to someone else who may have had something similar. You are there to listen and understand them as the person they truly are.
Listening is important
The more we listen to understand one another instead of listening to respond the more we open up communication channels to feel safe and comforted by those around us. If you and your support system both feel comfortable enough to openly communicate what you need from one another the less tension and frustration you will feel.
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