Today Ricki from Chronic and blessed does a guest post on The Thyroid Damsel. I am so excited and honored that she has done this for me!
If you would like to guest post on this blog, please fill in the form added at the bottom of the article.
Ricki is like me and suffers from Autoimmune thyroid disease. I have Graves and she suffers from Hashimoto’s.
So enough from me, and over to Ricki.
About the Author
Hello, my name is Ricki, blogger at Chronic and Blessed, coming to you from across the pond in the US (so please forgive my strange American spelling)! I’m so excited to be contributing and giving a guest post to The Thyroid Damsel!
I too suffer from a thyroid condition, specifically Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 2010, but only officially with an autoimmune disease last summer. However, I’ve probably been dealing with its effects for the last 13 years or so. I started out on the usual synthetic thyroid hormone, but my symptoms worsened to a debilitating point as a result of stress and unaddressed gut issues.
Eventually, I had to quit my job because I felt so sick and exhausted. I rarely saw friends or participated in anything I enjoyed. This disease took a toll on my loved ones and me so I set out to learn everything I could to try to get my life back. When I discovered the food connection I finally began to heal, along with help from supplements and alternative treatments under the supervision of an integrative physician. I still have a long way to go to recover my health. But I’m happy to say I’m feeling much better these days, which gives me hope!
One day it occurred to me that there are countless others out there in the world that suffers from all sorts of chronic illnesses. I myself had come to a place of acceptance, peace, and hope in my life, but it was a struggle to get there. I wanted to help encourage others on the journey, and that’s how Chronic and Blessed was born. My aim is to help others discover and embrace the blessings that can be found in the midst of life with a chronic illness. And that’s what I want to do here as well in this guest post on The Thyroid Damsel since Lucy’s posts are always so encouraging!
Support Systems in Chronic Illness
Something that has been on my mind lately about life with a chronic illness is how important support systems are for us. Living with pain, limitations, disabilities, and challenges is difficult. But with the support of others, we are better able to handle these as well as our daily responsibilities. In my case, I owe a lot to my husband, family, friends, and even my little dog for always being there, even when I’m at my worst.
Maybe you don’t have a support system right now because you’re afraid people won’t understand you. Maybe you don’t want to be a burden, or you’re afraid of being judged. The bad news is that some people aren’t safe, and shouldn’t be relied upon to help you. But the great news is that there are people out there who will understand, and who are willing to be there to lean on. Choosing a support system requires a little patience and a lot of wisdom, but it’s well worth it.
How to Identify Safe People
The most important step in building a support system is knowing how to identify safe people who are committed to being there for you. Not everyone in your support system can meet all of these qualities, nor will they be perfect (we’re not perfect either, right?). But I believe the most supportive people will have many of the following traits:
Patience, Understanding, and Flexibility
These people will not feel the need to pressure you to take whatever action they believe necessary for you to “get better.” They’ll seek to learn all they can about your struggle in order to understand the way you think and your actions. They will suspend judgments, knowing that your struggle is incredibly difficult. These people won’t get mad when you cancel plans (even multiple times in a row, as we sometimes have to do). They’ll work within your limitations to be in your life. They won’t push you or guilt you into things you can’t handle.
Safe people will be skilled listeners. Look for people who give eye contact, respond to what you’re saying, and even repeat what you’re telling them in order to understand. These people will allow you to vent without feeling the need to offer advice. They will know how to simply be there for you.
Open-minded people won’t judge you for taking medications, for invisible symptoms you can’t prove, or for diet changes you make. This is a big one for me since I’m always tweaking my diet, which could be a huge turn-off to my friends and family.
My friends struggling with mental illness can attest to this as well. They have often been judged for taking medication to manage their anxiety or depression. But for many of them, they need medication in order to function. A safe person will understand this.
Positive and Hopeful
You also need positive and hopeful people in your support system. I’m not talking about the exasperating type that wants to make everything seem rosy. Rather, I’m speaking about people who live within the understanding that suffering isn’t the end of the world. They will know that we all can handle a lot more than we think. Also, they will be people who can see the good that can come of terrible situations; lessons learned, character building, relationships strengthened.
These people need to be in our lives to help pull us out of our despair when we’re unable to do so for ourselves. Of course, they need to be people with the wisdom to distinguish between these times and times when we need to simply be heard.
You may think that you need people who have life altogether to lean on. But often the best support comes from people who have suffered and are even suffering now.
There may be people in your life who’ve lived with a chronic illness, physical or mental, or who have experienced extended periods of loss. They know what it feels like to grieve, to have their plans changed, and to experience pain. But in order to get the full support from these relationships, you must be willing to offer support and understanding to them as well.
How Will Safe People Make You Feel?
Aside from looking for the above characteristics, I think it’s important how supportive people make you feel. This is another indication of whether or not a person is safe.
Do they make you feel comfortable being yourself? Safe people will be people you don’t feel the need to impress or entertain. You should feel comfortable with who you are, flaws and all.
Do they make you feel energized? Safe people should not drain the life out of you. They should make you feel more energized by the time they leave or hang up the phone. If you find a person exhausting, they should not be in your support system. You may also consider whether or not the relationship is codependent. These relationships can be a detriment to health and should be addressed with a licensed counselor.
Do they make you feel loved? Last, but most important, safe people will make you feel loved. They will make you feel heard, supported, understood, and appreciated. You will feel that they truly care about you. Not because they feel obligated, but because they love you. We all need people in our lives that make us feel loved!
A Well Rounded Support System
Another aspect of a healthy support system for living with chronic illness is to find support from a variety of relationships. No one person can give us all the love and care we need (not even your spouse!), so we have to cast a wider net. I’ve found there are generally five relationship sources of support available to us.
The best way to get the encouragement and love you need to thrive in the midst of chronic illness is to develop relationships with as many people as possible.
If you aren’t married or in a serious relationship, this obviously won’t apply. But if you are, your spouse can be the most immediate source of support in your life.
Most of us live with spouses that don’t suffer from illnesses themselves, so they have a lot of learning to do in order to understand us. But as long as they have a good attitude and the attributes I’ve already listed, they could become a great help to you.
Your responsibility is to calmly explain your struggle and what you would like from your spouse. Spell it out! Never expect them to simply know. However, don’t assume your spouse is able or willing to support you in this way. Unfortunately, some are not, but luckily there are other relationships that can be supportive.
If you have safe people in your family, whether parents or third cousins, they should be a part of your support system. Just be sure your relationships are healthy and helpful. Again, communication is key when it comes to family because they’ve known you so long. They may be relating to you based on assumptions, so be clear about your needs.
Friends can be some of the best relationships to be part of your support system. You get to choose these people, and choose when to see them! Not all your friends will be safe enough to support you, but try to find one or two people who really listen and care for you.
Good friends should be encouraging and understanding, and this should be mutual. My two closest friends both struggle with mental health, and because of that, they are some of the most understanding and supportive people in my life. And I also have the opportunity to help them from my experience as well. Having even one close supportive friend can make all the difference in a really difficult time.
The best people to understand what you’re going through are those who have experienced it themselves. That’s why support groups can be so helpful. Whether through a church, a chronic illness group, or even a Facebook group, others who struggle as you do can help you through what they have already gone through. They can listen well, empathize, and offer advice when you want it.
Chronic illness can be very isolating, but support groups provide a like-minded community. One word of caution for any online groups: when people aren’t interacting face-to-face they feel more comfortable saying whatever they want.
Just because people are in the group because of their experience with illness doesn’t mean they will be safe people. Always exercise caution when sharing in online forums. Make sure you’re aware of the risk of receiving unkind words and unwarranted advice.
It may seem strange to include pets when talking about support systems, but I truly believe they can be incredibly helpful. Since I adopted a rescue puppy last summer I have experienced so much more joy and much less isolation. My dog snuggles with me, gets me out of the house for walks, and even helps me meet people in my neighborhood. My time at home is much less lonely than it would have been before.
I have heard very similar things from other chronic illness sufferers, so I truly believe pets can be a part of our support system. For some of us, therapy pets can be a crucial part of our ability to function. For others of us, it can be therapeutic to have something to nurture. Just make sure that if you’re thinking of getting a pet that you are prepared and educated in how to care for it. Be sure you are physically able to do so. Also, I hope you’ll rescue!
Build Your Support System
Other people have hurt many of us in the past. Maybe they didn’t believe us when we told them about our pain, or maybe they ridiculed us about our special diet or tried to give us health advice. Maybe they abandoned us because they felt a relationship with us was too difficult.
These experiences are hurtful, but they shouldn’t hold us back from building a support system of relationships that are healthy and safe.
We need others to help carry our heavy burdens, and thankfully there are great people out there who are willing to do so!.
With a little understanding about what safe people are like and the types of relationships, we can rely on. We can build a support system that will help us when we are greatly in need. We need others in our lives, no matter how self-sufficient or independent we believe ourselves to be.
If you are lacking relationships that build you up in your life with chronic illness, I encourage you to seek them out with wisdom!. Your health and well being will benefit greatly. You may even find that you grow to become a strong support for others as well.
If you do have some wonderful people in your life that care for you, remember to thank them! It can be challenging to be there for someone who is chronically ill. Make sure you let them know how much you appreciate all they do for you. They will be happy to hear it!
For more encouragement and practical help in your life with chronic illness, I hope you’ll check out ChronicandBlessed.com and follow me on social media! Be part of the community so we can help one another.
Thank you and love from Ricki!
You can follow Ricki @ Chronic & Blessed on her social channels below!
If you would like to guest post on The Thyroid Damsel like Ricki has, please fill in the form below.