10 Simple Tips for Supporting Your Friend with Fibromyalgia
Do you know someone who suffers from fibromyalgia? Invisible illnesses like fibromyalgia can throw a wrench in relationships – especially friendships.
Those living with fibromyalgia often have their lives turned upside down by the constant pain, discomfort and plethora of other symptoms associated with it (i.e. headaches, nausea, forgetfulness, etc). Meanwhile, as a friend of someone living with this condition – you may not completely understand it or know how to help.
If you find yourself in this situation, here are 10 easy ways you can both understand and support your friend with fibromyalgia:
#1 – Learn about Fibromyalgia
Want to support your friend and make his or her jaw drop at the same time? Take some time to learn about fibromyalgia on your own. No – you don’t need to buy a medical book and do a ton of research. Even just spending 20 minutes on the Internet, you can get a quick idea of the basics of fibromyalgia and what your friend is feeling each and every day.
Not sure where to look? Check out this list of 10 Reliable Sources for Fibromyalgia Information Online:
#2 – Believe Your Friend
Now that you’ve learned a little bit about fibromyalgia, the next biggest step is to show your friend that you believe them.
Some people are skeptical of people with fibromyalgia because – like people with other invisible illnesses – they “don’t look sick”. Imagine the torment of suffering from widespread chronic pain while having friends and loved ones tell you that “it’s all in your head” or “you’re just being lazy.” This is what many with fibromyalgia deal with on a near constant basis.
Of course, this attitude is extremely damaging and couldn’t be further from the truth. Fibromyalgia is a recognized condition and its symptoms are all too real. So let them know that even though you may not fully comprehend it – you believe them when they say their symptoms are real. That statement alone can be extremely comforting to someone suffering from pain and feeling isolated from skeptical friends or family.
#3 – Listen, then listen some more…
Every one needs a friend that will listen. This is especially true for those suffering from fibromyalgia. If you have the time, energy and willingness to be a listening ear – make sure your friend knows it. And if they take you up on it, try to do more listening than talking. You may want to offer suggestions or solutions to the problems they confide in you – but sometimes just listening is the best way to help.
#4 – Include them
Perhaps your friend with fibromyalgia had to turn down some of your invitations to hang out or to go out on the town. Don’t misinterpret this as them not wanting to spend time with you. Chances are they desperately wish they could go but the physical pain of their fibromyalgia is too much. Often times, they’ll feel guilty of how their fibromyalgia is disrupting their social lives and relationships and may be incline to withdraw so as not to feel that guilt or shame.
Let your friend know that you understand, that you don’t take it personally, and that they need not feel guilty or ashamed for something that is out of their control. Tell them they can take a rain check and that when or if they’re feeling up to it, you’d like to do something.
#5 – Distract them
Did you know that scientific studies have shown that distraction can literally reduce the amount of pain signals transferred to the brain? For many living with fibromyalgia, the feelings of isolation can naturally lead to prolonged dwelling on pain, discomfort, etc. Having a good distraction can not only pull your friend out of that unhealthy thought pattern – it can literally reduce the number of pain signals transferred to the brain. So, whether it’s a conversation on the phone or a girl’s (or guys) night watching the Bachelorette – find ways to help keep your friends mind occupied with something other than the pain.
# 6 – Be patient
Patience can go a long way in any relationship. For anyone with a friend suffering with an invisible illness, patience is critical to help prevent fallouts from misunderstandings, etc. And as with any relationship, it’s a two way street. Be patient with yourself (and your friend) as you adjust to this new reality. And request patience from your friend as you learn to adjust. Let them know you may not always say or do the right thing – but that you’re trying.
#7 – Communicate, communicate, and communicate…
Remember a little while back I told you to listen and try not to do all the talking? Well, that still applies – BUT – if there is something that needs to be said, say it. Like patience, communication is also a two way street. Talk to each other openly and honestly, but with compassion and generosity. You’ll find that there will be plenty of misunderstandings from both sides, but that usually an open dialogue can fix things.
#8 – Offer to help out – especially on bad days
Don’t be afraid to offer to help out your friend. Whether it’s offering to pick up groceries or maybe even help out with some simple chores around the house, even the smallest tasks can help. More often than not, your friend probably won’t ask for help (that’s just human nature). So pay attention and if you see a potential need, offer to help…especially on his or her bad days.
#9 – Help them stay within their limits (without “mommying”)
A photo posted by @fibromyalgia.treatment.group on
Have you heard of the spoon theory? If not, you should read it here. But a short summary of it is that each thing you do on a given day requires a spoon. For most healthy people, they have more than enough spoons to do all the activities they’d like in a day. For those with chronic pain or fibromyalgia, their spoons are limited. So, when your friend has run out of spoons – don’t make it harder on them by pressuring them into doing more than their body can handle. They may give in out of guilt – but the toll it takes could take days to recover from.
So – you don’t need to be a mom and tell your friend they can’t do something. After all, they’re an adult; they can do whatever they want. But – you can help by supporting them when they have reached (or are about to reach) their limit.
#10 – Don’t tell them “it could be worse”
I didn’t want this list to be a negative list – so I only added one “don’t” item to it. But this is one a lot of family and friends of loved ones do in a sincere, but somewhat misguided effort to make their friend or family member feel better. It usually goes something like, “Well, it could be worse, at least you don’t have [any name of an illness worse than fibromyalgia].”
While yes, it may be true that it could be worse, this statement devalues your friend’s situation and may make them feel guilty for expressing frustration about their symptoms. Avoid statements that may unintentionally shut the door to your friend being able to express how they feel open and honestly.
There you have it – 10 simple, but effective ways to support your friend with fibromyalgia. Of course, situations and circumstances will vary – so tailor my advice to your own situation and do what works best for you. Most importantly, let your friend know you love them and enjoy your time with them!