Your chronic illness is one of the most personal topics to talk about with others. Although it doesn’t always feel good, there are some great things that can happen when you give it a try. Here are some things that can help you talk about your chronic illness with more confidence.

What Gets In Your Way?

Up until recently, you prided yourself on having a certain reputation or image prior to diagnosis. You struggle trying to be the person you were before you became ill – often called the “strong one.” Now that your health is poor, you have racing thoughts (i.e., “Will they think I’m no fun anymore? What if I have to cancel on them again?”).

The fear of judgement often hinders many people from getting the necessary support after diagnosed with a chronic illness. Responding out of fear is the main reason chronically ill people stay quiet and their needs go unmet. I encourage you to be brave today, because facing your fears puts you in a better position to support yourself and enhance your quality of life.

Here are 5 tips that can help you share with confidence:

1 – Learn more about your chronic illness.

There is a lot of information to take in after a major medical diagnosis. You don’t feel that you know enough about your health to confidently discuss it with others. That’s okay! Time will help you learn more about the condition and how to manage it effectively.

In the meantime, continue talking with others who are informed about your condition (i.e., medical provider, others with the condition). Invite a family member to your next appointment so that they can ask questions, if needed. Take notes on how your body responds day-to-day to provide to your doctor as needed.

Feel free to say “I don’t know” or “I’m still figuring that out” in the instance that someone asks a question about your condition that you can’t confidently answer. Focus more on what you DO know and go from there.

2 – Find healthy ways to cope with your feelings.

The emotional toll of a chronic illness requires time for you to adjust. After all, it’s hard to talk about your health when you’re still accepting the news. Hard conversations feel like you’re re-opening wounds that are barely healed. Find ways to help yourself relax (taking deep breaths, journaling, meditation, thinking positive thoughts, watching a funny movie/television series, sitting in nature or reading).

Don’t worry about whether or not you get emotional when talking with others about your health, because that is part of your process. You’re allowed to grieve! The goal is to support yourself as you share.You will get through the conversation more successfully calmly when you center yourself as much as possible.

This is not the time for other unhealthy strategies (i.e, stress eating, substance abuse), as those strategies are likely to make you feel more stressed and sick over time.

3 – Allow them to time to take in the news.

Be prepared for the person you’re telling to become emotional. Some common reactions are crying, shock/disbelief, worry, sadness and anger.

Common thoughts are: “What am I supposed to do if they cry?,” “I can’t handle their pain when I have my own to deal with!,” “I don’t want their pity; I want their support.” They need time to accept and cope with this news and reality just as you did when you got the news.

Revisit your coping options to support yourself if their response becomes overwhelming for you,  Give them a moment to compose themselves so that you can move forward TOGETHER.

4 – Decide how/when you want to share the news.

Disclosing that you have a chronic illness can be accomplished in the following ways: 1) Casually stating it: “I have XYZ” in conversation, 2) talking about it over a meal, 3) scheduling a family meeting, 4)  making a phone call to deliver the news personally and 5) informing them in writing (i.e., email or letter).

Some health conditions require immediate treatment and disclosure, limiting the time to think through step as long as you’d like. However you decide, remember to go with your gut and be as specific as necessary to meet your needs.

 5. Consider how they can help.

Consider WHY you are sharing this information with someone before doing so. Some reasons for sharing include: taking temporary leave from work for treatment, requesting help with certain tasks, and inviting someone to accompany you during scheduled treatments or medical appointments. Many people report sharing to simply confide in others they trust about their health.

Whatever your reason for sharing, just remember to be specific about ways that they can support you. The clearer you are, the better likely they can fulfill your requests.

Reach Out for Support

As a therapist specializing in anxiety and chronic illnesses, I’ve observed people step up to support their loved ones – even when the worst was expected of them. These situations bring people closer together and clarify what’s most important in life. Yes, it’s possible that not everyone will respond in ways that you’d prefer. However, the ones that you need WILL show up!

If you remain unsure about how to talk about your chronic illness with others, you are not alone.

I help teens and adults talk about the hard topics that come up when living with a chronic illness. Many of my clients transition from staying quiet to speaking up, advocating for their needs and building supportive communities. I  recommend joining a support group (see my chronic illness groups here) to share experiences with others that understand the chronic illness journey.

Remember, your chronic illness does not have to isolate you – it can connect you.

Schedule your free consultation today.