How to Support Someone Who Often Cancels Plans Due to Chronic Illness

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For those who like to plan, it can be frustrating having a loved one who drops out of events at the last minute, even when you know they are struggling with chronic illness symptoms. It makes it difficult to arrange spending time together and can also have financial implications – something we’re all particularly aware of as costs continue to rise. If you have a family member or friend who lives with a chronic illness and often has to cancel plans due to their health, here's how you can support them.

1. Downplay your disappointment that your loved one had to cancel plans due to their health.

It’s important to remember that if you’re disappointed about plans changing, the person who is pulling out will be feeling the same, on top of coping with pain, fatigue, or other symptoms which have influenced their decision. My own experience of having to let people down has taught me there’s no easy way to do it – for either party. Personally, I often wait as long as humanly possible before dropping out of an event, hoping that I’ll have a burst of energy or that the pain will become manageable enough for me to be able to go ahead as planned. I dread sending a text or making a call that I know will impact other people, whether that’s to say I’m unable to attend work, can’t make it to a birthday party, or am too unwell to manage the meal out that’s been booked for weeks.

2. Understand that pulling out of events = self-care for people with chronic illness.

However, for people with chronic illness, pulling out of events can be an act of self-care. The popular spoon theory is one way of understanding how someone with chronic illness needs to pace themselves, sometimes meaning changing plans because of unexpected hurdles that have arisen during the day.

3. Show sympathy when your family member or friend cancels plans due to chronic illness.

It is understandable that you might feel frustrated when plans change, especially when it’s not your fault. Remember that it’s also not the fault of the person who is dropping out and that they have probably done all they can to try and remain as well as possible in the build-up to an event. Sympathy can go a long way, as can offers of practical help. If your friend or family member is too sick to attend, they are also likely to be too sick to go shopping for food or medicine. Asking if you can provide support in this way is a kind gesture and also reassures the person – who may feel a sense of guilt for the impact their health has had on your plans – that there are no hard feelings and that their recovery is the most important factor.

4. Don't rely on the person with chronic illness to be at an event or to organize it.

On a practical level, it is often best not to wholly rely on a person with chronic illness for transportation, or to be in charge of looking after tickets for an event in case they need to back out. Worrying about rearranging things like this immediately before an event is stressful for all involved, so reduce the likelihood of needing to alter plans by taking charge. While not a guarantee, limiting their responsibility may also make it easier for a person with chronic illness to attend an event even if they're not feeling well.

5. Be understanding if your loved one has to cancel plans because of their chronic illness.

Most importantly, please be understanding. I can guarantee the person canceling feels as upset and annoyed as you do – probably more, because they’re also angry at their body for letting them down. Show kindness by rearranging where possible and finding ways they can still be involved (if they want). If they’re missing a concert, perhaps you could Facetime them during their favorite song. If it’s a wedding, ask if they have a message you can add to the guestbook on their behalf. These thoughtful acts will go a long way to helping someone who is feeling low feel included and remembered.

Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash

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