The moments that can especially trigger smiles in people with a chronic illness, whether it's celiac disease, a food allergy or anything in between. Because, as much as we may want to fit in with everyone else, life with a permanent medical condition its quirks. Ready to spread some love? Here are seven easy acts of kindness to give someone with a chronic illness the best day ever!
1. Make a (friend) date...where food isn't even included.
Whether you have a nut allergy, celiac disease or have discovered that certain foods exacerbate your symptoms, chronic illnesses can make social outings...awkward. I still vividly remember my first date, only a week after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Unfortunately, I remember getting glutened by popcorn more than watching the actual movie!
To take the dietary awkwardness out of the day, design a date where food isn't even mentioned. Some of my favorite dates recently involved meeting after dinner to walk down to the cliffs (when I lived beside the ocean at college!), watching Netflix on a blanket under the stars or hammocking with friends. Food is often tied to social activities - especially in college where "pizza party" is a guaranteed winner - but it doesn't have to be.
|Like hiking up Potato Chip Rock!|
In fact, surprising someone with a food-free adventure might be the easiest way to take the stress out of socializing!
2. Spend 15 minutes researching their disease online - as long as they haven't told you not to.
For some people, I know this is a touchy subject. I have one friend with a heart condition who won't reveal the name of her disease because she doesn't want people researching it. She wants people to focus on time with her right now - not her illness or future possible complications.
While I completely understand her decision, I have a different perspective. As my blog would imply, talking about celiac disease or fibromyalgia comes easily for me - and I appreciate when others put in the effort to learn. I still remember when my dad offhandedly mentioned reading some posts at Gluten Dude shortly after I was diagnosed, and I felt lucky to have someone that dedicated to understanding what I was going through.
Not only that, but research can also help you sidestep asking the same questions people hear all the time - like "What do you even eat!?!" I don't mind raising awareness and educating others...but that doesn't mean I'm not impressed when friends already know some of the basics.
3. Call shotgun and scope out the best allergy free bakeries or bistros within two hours.
If your friend isn't a foodie, maybe this isn't the perfect choice for you both. However, I'll rarely ever turn down a surprise visit to a restaurant where I can actually eat. Considering that when restaurants adopt allergy free menus, their business can increase by 25 percent, I'm obviously not the only diet-restricted foodie!
One of my college senior year highlights is still the day when my friend Natalie and I scoped out a 100% raw, vegan and gluten free restaurant nearby our college. Neither of us are raw or vegan...but she was willing to go out of her comfort zone with me. In the end, we both loved our orders - mushroom stroganoff for her and mushroom quesadilla with kale chips for me - and I loved being able to order anything off the menu without worry.
You can even turn this into a mini road trip, stopping by historical landmarks, natural parks or bucket list sights on your way to and back from eating. After all, you'll need some way to burn off breakfast and get hungry for lunch!
4. Ask what helps during health flares - and remember to do it.
This is one of the simplest things you can do for someone with a chronic illness. Period. When I'm glutened or in more pain than usual, sometime the last thing I want to do is explain what I need. I just want someone to know, as unfair as that may sound.
When you ask ahead of time, you'll be prepared when your loved one's body takes a turn for the worse. You'll know whether they need company and cuddles...or they just want to be left alone. Every person differs in what makes them feel better, so this is one topic you really need to talk about instead of Google.
As much ask I may hate friends seeing me at my lowest...I also know that my friends and their love can help lift me up again.
5. Let them cook you a "safe" meal or snack...and eat it with an open mind.
This may be more applicable for people whose chronic illness drastically limits their diet, like cutting out gluten or following a strict autoimmune paleo protocol. However, when people love (or at least tolerate) my "special" food, my meal really tastes that much better.
As crazy as it sounds, the food we eat helps construct who we are. We make statements about our personal values and beliefs when we reach for broccoli instead of chips, or follow a vegan diet versus a meat-heavy paleo one. So, when people make gross faces at my meals, it hurts - especially when going gluten free wasn't my choice.
So, the next time someone with dietary restrictions invites you over for dinner, eat the rice pasta without loudly comparing it to wheat. Try the black bean brownies without automatically calling them "weird" in your mind. Sure, you might not like the food - and that's entirely allowed. But that can be due to your personal taste buds just as much as your friend's diet.
|Case in point: my dad eventually enjoyed the "gerbil food" that is Frontier Bites|
And who knows? The food might even surprise you in the most delicious of ways.
6. Be flexible with your plans.
I hate to say it, but chronic illness are major drama queens. I can eat the same thing two days, and my stomach will freak out randomly on the second. I can work-work-work for a week straight...and then suddenly be hit with major burn out.
The truth is, I don't like to cancel plans. I don't like to turn down dinner invitations when I was drooling at the idea of Chipotle a few days before. But sometimes, to care for my body properly, I have to. And I greatly appreciate it when my loved ones understand.
So, if you're friend has a flare up and can't go dancing on a Friday night, offer a night of PF Changs and Netflix instead. If they are too tired to go on a far adventure, set up a blanket and watch the sunset right outside their house (or dorm). The more flexible you are, the more comfortable your friends may feel in letting you know what they're really up to that day.
And when they do feel better...the adventures you originally planned will be twice as awesome!
7. Remind them that they are more than their chronic illness - and you love them just the same.
We all play a variety of roles in life. Sibling. Blogger. College student. Parent. Employee. Friend. Lover. Mentor. The list goes on and on. When one of those roles - the role of being someone with a chronic illness - impacts all the others, though, it's hard to not consider it your entire identity.
If my college friends have taught me anything, though, it's how much I have to offer beyond my medical statuses. I can be a soul sister to Meghan. A foodie mentor to Belinda. A Netflix partner-in-crime to Chris. A good listener to Hannah. I'm lucky enough to have friends and family who remind me every day how much more I am - and that is one of the greatest gifts you can give to any loved one with a chronic illness.
When they're struggling, remind them how far they've come or the accomplishments they can still make. When they're feeling socially isolated, take them out (or join them inside) and show them how much fun they can still have. And when they're hating their body for betraying them...tell them that you love them just the same.
|Some of my favorite supporters...|
Because, really, love is the secret ingredient to any "best day ever." And this is one random act of kindness that can never go out of style.