You may be worried about how your friends or family will react – will they withdraw from you? Will they blame you? Or you may be worried that talking about your illness might make things worse.
Many people feel guilty and think that they have brought the illness on themselves in some way. However, this is not true.
Although some of your friends and family will find it difficult to talk about your illness, the best way to overcome their fears is by talking. This is not always easy. One of the most difficult things about being ill is the need to tell friends and family about the illness. Most people who are ill feel that they don’t know where to start.
It is usually possible to have your partner or a close friend with you when you see your doctor, so that you both know what is going on.
The following tips can help you to talk about difficult issues:
Try to get the setting right
Make sure the television is turned off, the door is closed, you are both sitting comfortably and you can both see each other’s face easily.
It’s always worth introducing the subject gradually
Rather than just saying you are ill straightaway you could say something like: ‘This is going to be difficult, but I need to tell you something.’ If your situation is worrying but sounds as though it will be all right in the long term you can say that. For example: ‘I have had some bad news, but there is a good chance that everything will be OK after I have had treatment.’
There is no easy way to tell other people that you are seriously ill
You can only tell them in the way that feels best for you. Sometimes it is easier to give the news over the telephone or by letter, rather than being face to face.
Ask what they already know
If you think your relative or friend knows some of what has been happening, then it can be quite useful to ask about that, before you repeat what they already know: ‘You probably know some of this already, so if you tell me what you know then I can add to it.’
Give the information in small chunks, a few sentences at a time
Ask your relative or friend if they understand what you are saying before you carry on. You can say things like: ‘Does that make sense?’ or ‘Is that clear?’
There will often be silences – don’t be put off by them
You or your relative or friend may sometimes find that you don’t know what to say. Just holding hands or sitting together in the same room can say more than any words. If you find that a silence makes you feel uncomfortable, the easiest way to break it is with simple questions such as ‘What are you thinking about?’
Say what you need to say
When you tell someone close to you that you have a serious illness, they may feel very upset and depressed. Because of that you may feel that you have to put on a positive and cheerful face to make them feel better. This is fine if your situation looks OK. But if you are really worried about the future, you don’t need to hide that from your relative or friend, to protect their feelings.
Try to stay as close to the real situation as you can
It may be painful for your relative or friend at that moment, but if you are too positive, they may be much more hurt to find out the seriousness of the situation later on.
These tips can make a difficult conversation a bit easier. It may not feel fair that you should have to do so much, especially when you probably need support yourself. But talking about your situation can help your friends to support you in the future.
Other people's attitude
When it comes to talking to people about your illness, you may be worried that they’ll feel uncomfortable. You may be right – people often do find it difficult to talk about something so serious.
Your family and friends may also have no idea what to say, but may feel that they ought to know what to say. They may feel that they want to help you and may think that there is a ‘magic formula’ they can use which will make you feel better, but they don’t know what it is!
If other people don’t know what to say, they may avoid you altogether. This can be very hurtful.
You may also find that some family members go into denial. This means that they cope with the situation by pretending that it is not happening. Again, this can be very upsetting when you need their support. Sometimes, after a while, their feelings will change and they will be able to talk to you. However, if they can’t, you may have to accept that this is their way of dealing with things. In this situation you may need to rely on other people for the support that you need.
Lack of experience
Some people may have no experience to guide them in supporting you. They may not have had a serious illness themselves or may not have known anyone else with one. They may be unsure of what you want and need, and may not know how to ask you.
It is not your friends’ or family’s fault if they feel uncomfortable or unable to talk to you. It may just be that they find the subject very difficult and they are afraid of making things harder for you.
Fear of your reaction
Your friends or family may also be worried about how you will react if they bring up the subject of your illness. They may think that they won’t know what to do if you cry or get upset.
It can be difficult to talk about your illness for all the reasons given above. But if you are open and talk about your situation and feelings, you can let people know what support you may need.
You can learn to judge reactions, and see who is willing to talk to you and able to be supportive. You can focus on these people and perhaps just talk about social or everyday issues with people who do not feel able to discuss your illness or who react in a way that you do not find helpful.
Benefits of talking about your illness
It can be so difficult to talk about illness that you may think ‘Why should I bother?’ Why is it worth talking about what’s going on if it makes you and your friends feel uncomfortable? But talking can help you cope with any uncertainties or difficulties that may lie ahead. It can give you support, and can help you have some control over your situation.
- Generally, people seem to get comfort from talking to each other. Discussing fears or concerns can put them into perspective.
- Sometimes, you may think you have unanswered questions and you may find it difficult to make up your mind about some issues. You may only realise the answer when you ask someone else the question. In other words, talking about something can often help you to know how you feel about it.
- If the person you are talking to hears your fears or concerns and then simply stays with you, it can help you to feel that your feelings are completely normal. This may reassure you.
- Talking about a fear or a worry often stops it from growing in our minds. Often when we are thinking about something all the time, we worry about it more and more. Once the fear is out in the open and is being discussed, this process often stops.
- Finally, talking about something important or personal creates a bond between people. This is valuable in itself and can make you feel appreciated and supported.