What's a Friend to Do?
A friend of mine called last week to find out what she could do to support someone she cares about who has just been diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Her friend lives 3000 miles away and is getting ready to undergo more tests to verify the diagnosis.
Here is my advice to her, and to any of you who may have someone you care about just diagnosed with IBD.
First, I am going to give you one of the theories on what can happen when a person is diagnosed with a disease. I think the theory presents a really complete picture of the different factors that can make a difference as to whether the individual adapts well or not to the diagnosis. Then, I am going to turn the theory into practical suggestions of ways you can help a friend.
In the early 80s, two researchers determined that when a person or family is dealing with a crisis (which often describes the onset of a serious or chronic illness), there are three major things that happen: the person experiences new stressors, new resources, and then the person assigns meaning to the crisis. First, the stressors... If there is a crisis like the onset of a serious illness, the theory goes that the person with the illness is seldom dealing with a single stressor. Instead he or she is experiencing a pile-up of new demands as a result of the diagnosis. So in your friend's case, these new demands may come in the form of multiple doctor visits, or just not feeling well enough each day due to the illness to go to work. To help balance out these new stressors, your friend will hopefully have existing or new resources available to help her with the crisis (as her friend, this is where you come in). The last part of the theoretical equation is the meaning your friend gives to situation - how she views it. According to the theory, all three of these factors (stressors, resources, and meaning) come together to determine if she will be able to adapt positively or not to her new situation.
To translate this theory into practice, the following are eight things you can do to provide your friend with some of the additional resources she may need to balance out the additional stressors she may now be facing.
1) Educate yourself - no need to become an expert, but by spending an hour or so on line, you may quickly get a sense of some of things she may be experiencing.
2) Share the links with her to the places you learned the most in the shortest amount of time.
3) Look for support groups in her area and pass on the contact information. Even though she doesn't yet have a definitive diagnosis, often times support groups can be a great starting place for a referral for a second medical opinion.
4) Ask her if she needs any specific help you may be able to provide - again, she may be dealing with multiple stressors as a result of this illness, some of which only she is aware of.
5) Provide distractions through funny cards just to let her know you are thinking about her, and that there is always room for laughter. This suggestion and the next one may help with the "meaning" factor of the equation.
6) Present the positive - share with her that many individuals living with IBD are able to manage their condition very well, and are extremely successful in all aspects of their lives.
7) Let her know that you understand this can be a time of uncertainty at best, and a scary time at worst. This will provide assurance that you understand there may a range of emotions she is experiencing as a result of the diagnosis.
8) Invite her to reach out whenever she needs to, no matter the time of day or night.