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Leigh-Ann: Supporting a friend with Fibromyalgia

I didn’t know what Fibromyalgia was until a very close family friend was diagnosed with the condition, the kind of family friend that is family. After that, I started hearing the word everywhere, and I realised that there were actually a number of people close to me whose lives were affected by Fibro.

I was familiar with the idea of living with chronic pain, not through personal experience, but a few of my closest friends lived with chronic illness and pain: from ME to severe IBS, complicated skin conditions and Fibromyalgia.

Knowing how to support my loved ones with chronic pain is something I’m still learning how to do. Some of the things I know now seem so obvious, but when I was younger and knew so much less about Fibromyalgia, it didn’t seem so much so. I still get things wrong. I say or do the wrong things. I misunderstand. And I don’t at all pretend to come from a place of knowing all there is to know. But I think every day I learn a little bit more and try a little bit harder, and I hope that above all else, my friends know that I will always listen, and I will always be there.

I found that when supporting a friend with fibromyalgia, or any kind of chronic pain or illness, that’s truly the most important thing: being there. It means being there when things are good and when they aren’t. It means listening. It means not getting angry when plans are cancelled or changed. It means being willing to talk about it and being willing to sit in the silence. It means being happy to provide a distraction. It means being okay with not seeing them for a while and being ready and willing when they feel up to hanging out.

It’s also about accepting that you can’t always understand. It’s the ‘don’t know until you know’ kind of thing. I could never claim to understand all of the big and small nuisances of an experience I may never have. But I can empathise, and I can sit beside them in the dark as well as the light, so to speak.

I’m the kind of person who always wants to ‘fix’ things. I always want to make things better and I really struggle with watching my loved ones experience any kind of pain or suffering. I had to learn that Fibromyalgia was something I couldn’t ‘fix’. It was something I couldn’t make better. It was rubbish, and it was crappy and unfair (and insert stronger word here). And sometimes you just have to shout that it’s rubbish, and you need to really hear your friends when they say that it’s rubbish. You must make sure your friends always feel seen and heard.

Saying ‘I hope you feel better soon’ used to be a reflex, but it wasn’t always the most helpful thing for my loved ones to hear when they were all too aware that the pain was part of their everyday and that their Fibro wouldn’t go away ‘soon’. Though the temptation is to come back with positivity, that’s not always what’s needed. Sometimes when they say it’s painful and unfair and rubbish, you just have to give them a big hug, say ‘I know, and I love you’.

Maybe it’s going to doctor’s appointments or carrying a load. Or maybe it’s being a shoulder to cry on, or someone to laugh with, both through the pain and when things are a little bit lighter.

Just be there.

That’s all I could do. And it’s probably all you can do to.

The close family friend I referred to is no longer with us. I miss her every single day. More than words can express.

If you have a loved one with Fibro and you don’t know what to do or what to say, my advice would be to just be there. Soak up every moment of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. Because it’s all precious when it comes to the people you love.

You’ll make mistakes. It’s inevitable. But I know for sure that I’ll never regret trying and they will appreciate your efforts.

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