5 Signs that You are Feeling Unsupported with Your Chronic Illness
As a person with a chronic illness, you are likely to come across people that are unsupportive when it comes to your health. Here are some signs that can leave you feeling unsupported.
#1. Feeling like “No one else gets it.”
Chances are high that you are experiencing different symptoms from most others around you, all while living with the expectations to live as if your health doesn’t bother you.
That’s a lot of hard work, and for many chronically ill people, it’s what makes you feel like no one gets it. This challenging dynamic makes it harder for you to build and keep meaningful relationships in your life.
Some of the ways that you’ve tried to help other people better understand you is to explain your health, express your struggles and even ask for support. But unfortunately that opens a can of worms if the other person still doesn’t show you that they understand, leaving you feeling unsupported with your chronic illness.
Cue the feelings of frustration.
First off, I want to give you some props for opening up about your health in the first place, because that is a brave and vulnerable thing to do! You advocated for yourself by doing this, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly by anyone (including you).
It is important to feel understood by those around you when you have a chronic illness. And it is also just as important to notice unsupportive responses that leave you feeling unsupported after you share.
Signs that someone does not understand your chronic illness:
- They ask questions about your chronic illness that you’ve already explained.
- They seem confused as if what you’re telling them about your health doesn’t make sense.
- They avoid talking about your health and change the subject when you mention it.
- Others become angry with you when you mention your chronic illness.
- Your health is compared to other people.
- They don’t take the time to learn about your chronic illness in their own time.
- Requests you’ve made of them to support your health aren’t taken seriously or honored.
- They continue making unrealistic requests of you after you inform them of the issue.
- You are blamed for your chronic illness and symptoms
- They give unsolicited advice to help you “feel better” or “get rid of” your illness.
These responses are not your fault, but they can still leave you feeling unsupported and lonely with your chronic condition. Remember that you have done your part by sharing, and now it’s time for others in your life to do their part of the work if they really want to understand how your chronic illness affects your life.
#2. Comparing Yourself to Others Without a Chronic Illness
Society is full of people with chronic illnesses. In fact, 6/10 people in the US have at least one chronic health condition. Despite chronically ill people being the majority, for some reason you are held to expectations that leave you feeling unsupported.
Contrary to popular belief – it is unfortunately normal to live with at least one chronic illness.
The expectation to function “normally” as if you do not have a chronic illness is damaging, and ultimately can lead you to compare yourself to other people without a chronic illness. This is unfair and unrealistic.
If not careful, you can start comparing yourself to other people at school, work, church, in your family and even on social media (because we all know how life can be made to look glamorous and carefree when it’s really not).
The comparison to others without a chronic illness often brings on a set of beliefs from society that you hold yourself to (even without knowing it).
Damaging beliefs that leave you feeling unsupported when comparing yourself to others:
- “I have to be perfect.”
- “I have to be smarter.”
- “I can’t take off from work when I feel sick.”
- “I have to act like I’m not sick to avoid others judging me.”
- “I’m burdening other people when I talk about my health.”
- “I’m not doing enough.”
- “I’m a failure if I don’t do things like everyone else.”
- “I’m not good enough.”
Have you experienced any of these thoughts/beliefs? If so, you are not alone.
You may actually be in circles of people where these messages and beliefs are encouraged, but ask yourself these questions: Do these beliefs encourage me to take care of myself? Do these messages make me feel like an idiot or a failure most times?
Comparisons are not helpful for anyone with a chronic illness. Instead your life becomes more meaningful and functional when you define what it needs to look like for YOU. Some additional adjustments to consider when living with a chronic illness can help you overcome damaging beliefs with a chronic illness.
#3. Feeling that “My health is a burden to others.”
One of the most isolating things that happen with chronic illnesses is feeling like your health is a burden to others. Most of these feelings can come on naturally, because it’s not easy to ask for help or to depend on others when you would rather do things yourself.
As you know with a chronic illness, sometimes relying on others becomes necessary. But it doesn’t make it any easier to do that when other people say or do things that leave you feeling unsupported.
Situations that can make you feel like your health is a burden:
- Doctor becomes annoyed when you ask more questions or request follow-up.
- Your loved ones stop inviting you over or involving you when making plans.
- Your boss describes how your absences put more work on other staff.
- People ask “why you can’t do things like other people” when you request their help.
All of these situations can understandably bring you to a low place and leave you feeling unsupported because your needs are being denied. These feelings can affect your mental health, leading to depression if not worked through long-term.
As mentioned before, some people respond in unsupportive ways because they don’t understand. Even then, it’s not an excuse and doesn’t change the fact that you have specific needs to be met.
These situations do not confirm that you are a burden. Instead, it confirms that the other people in your life are not equipped to support you as you deserve.
#4. Fear of People Believing you
Have you ever found yourself trying to convince other people that you aren’t feeling well or actually have a chronic illness? You’re often explaining how certain situations don’t work for you and maybe even requesting support. But somehow they don’t believe you and the support doesn’t come…
It’s really hard when other people do not believe you – especially those that you love or depend on (i.e., family members, employers and healthcare providers).
This is something that many people report experiencing, and if you’re like most chronically ill people, it makes you feel angry, annoyed and even lonely. You may even notice feeling betrayed, unimportant and dismissed.
Again, red flags that you are feeling unsupported with your chronic illness.
Supporting Yourself When Feeling Others Don’t Believe You
A common response when fearing that others will not believe you is to no longer open up with anyone, because “what’s the point of sharing when they won’t believe me?” Beware of this tendency because it becomes unhealthy when you begin to cut everyone out of your life (including those that do believe and support you).
You deserve emotional peace and safety in every relationship you have, and your need to distance yourself is an attempt to set boundaries and protect your emotional peace.
The most helpful way to set this boundary moving forward is to intentionally surround yourself with people who do believe you (as you back away from relationships that leave you feeling unsupported).
This is an act of self-care and a means of survival, and ultimately can improve your mental health because you’re not feeling lonely and surrounded by a bunch of naysayers. Your time is much more valuable than that, especially when you have your health to consider.
There’s hope here. I encourage you to continue sharing your truth with others when you decide it is in your best interest. Joining a support group for people with chronic illness can be an immediate resource to surrounding yourself with other people who believe you.
Talking about your chronic illness with supportive people is an important part of your life. Just be sure to protect yourself when people show you that they aren’t capable of doing that.
#5 You are Blamed for Your Chronic Illness and Symptoms
Have you ever talked with someone about your chronic illness and their immediate response is to 1) give unsolicited advice or 2) tell you that what you’re currently doing is wrong?
How did that go?
These two types of responses can leave you feeling ashamed, even when the person you’re talking with is “just trying to help.” What they don’t realize is that these responses leave you feeling unsupported because you are being blamed for why you feel the way you do.
What people without chronic illnesses don’t understand is that you’ve likely tried most recommendations they’ve come up with.
Also, here’s the big one… Chances are high that your body may still respond in a way that makes it hard to function even when doing things they suggested (i.e., exercising, taking an insane amount of supplements, thinking positive thoughts, changing your diet, and sleeping more).
Or their suggestions can make you feel worse.
As a chronic illness therapist, most people that come to see me for the first session have tried many different strategies to support their lives. The last thing you need is for someone to imply that you aren’t doing enough, because you likely are giving everything you have to make life work for you.
You want to “feel better.” Truthfully, you want it more than they do!
So when you hear responses from other people implying that you’re chronically ill or experiencing symptoms because of something you’ve “done wrong” when you’re literally doing all that you can, it can leave you feeling unsupported.
In these instances, I encourage you to determine whether or not it’s best to respond to these comments.
Sometimes, just saying “thank you” can end the discussion and allow you to invest your energy focusing on something else of importance to you. If it’s a situation that you feel is best to share more, it’s perfectly okay to correct them and provide information that speaks to your experience.
Remember, no matter what their response is, your chronic illness is not your fault. Period.
Next Steps for Feeling Supported with Your Chronic Illness
I help teens and adults who are living with chronic illnesses and feeling unsupported by people around them. Therapy is a powerful tool that can help you work through those situations that leave you feeling unsupported, because it can happen when you least expect it.
Although your journey with a chronic illness has been hard, therapy can make it more bearable because you get to have the important conversations about your health during the therapy session, giving you more confidence and improving your mental health. You also have the option to invite your loved ones for family therapy and even participate in group sessions to overcome these challenges with support.
You’re not alone, and feeling supported with your chronic illness is possible.
Schedule your first appointment with me by booking a free 15-minute consultation.