Getting sick is rough. Difficult. Sad. And not something I could get through on my own. Luckily I found a community, and it reinstated my faith in humanity.
I recently started a side project, on pure impulse, where I decided I want to draw a quick portrait of everybody who helped me while I was really ill (I mean, I’m still ill, but somewhat better than before). I’m talking about when I was a little sofa slug, unable to move, and yoyo-ing in and out of hospital for scans and ops, or having painful daily dressings.
In turn, this has inspired me to write a blog post about all the brilliant, helpful things these people did or said. You never know when you might need to support a sick pal, and this could help.
- They said “I’m so sorry, that sucks“. You’d be surprised how many people try to be positive (and I can’t blame them) in the face of very bad news. But when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want people telling me that it could be worse, or that it was good I knew what was wrong with me now. I was sad, I needed to grieve. So when someone simply sympathised or acknowledged the shittiness of the situation, I was relieved. All I had to do was agree – and, strangely, that compelled me to be more positive.
- They sent me books we could discuss. I couldn’t get out and about much, so books were a great way to stay amused. Knowing someone had made the effort to send me a book they loved – like the most perfectly curated library – made my week, time after time.
- They watched the same shows as me so we could discuss them at length. I know Love Is Blind is trash TV but it gave me hours of good conversation on Instagram!
- They sent flowers. I mean, flowers work in every situation, don’t they? But when you’re stuck inside, having something pretty to look at makes a lot of difference.
- They googled the medical things I didn’t want to, and fed the information back to me in a (sometimes) softer and more easily digestible way. There wasn’t really a gentle way to tell me the details of a seton suture. I’ll get over that eventually.
- They checked in on me regularly. Everyone is different, but I’m quite a needy lass who likes a regular check-in session. Knowing someone cared enough to think about me every couple of days and wanted to schedule in a catch-up meant a lot to me. Just a ‘hey, how’re you feeling today?’ (NB: do not ask ‘what are you up to today?’ to your ill friend. They are doing nothing, don’t rub it in.)
- They sent me cat photos and happy reddit threads before painful procedures so I could distract myself. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an abscess packing (probably not) but it would often feel like someone inserting an unfurled paper clip into my butt. Yes, it hurt a lot. I’d get really nervous in the waiting room, so the cat pictures helped.
- They visited and spent time with me (pre-lockdown, obviously). I felt like I was going to lose out on a lot of friends and social situations, so when people came over I was super grateful. Real social interaction, remember that?!
- They told me I was brave and strong, even when I didn’t believe it. They kept reminding me, until it became part of my new identity. Now I’ve gone from seeing myself as a coward to a hero.
- They shared their own stories and experiences with me. This could (and should) be its own post, but I can’t describe what a difference the chronically ill community made to me. They found me, one by one, and told me about their own hospital stays/health struggles/pain issues. It’s quite a lonely world, and I felt so different to my friends. They couldn’t relate to what I was going through. When you find someone who has had similar experiences, it’s such a sense of relief. I could be my full self without grossing people out and making them too uncomfortable.
These are just some of the ways people helped me, but I hope they’ve given you some inspiration.
I am so, so grateful to these people because it’s them who’ll get me out the other side in one piece. It’s encouraging me to be open about my illness and giving me the space to turn my stories into jokes that stop me becoming too traumatised.
(And an extra thank you to my family who’ve been putting up with me 24/7. They drove me to the hospital and doctor’s every day for weeks, and dealt with the tears, the wonkiness and the bellyaching for the past 6 months. Heroes.)