I'm no stranger to watching those around me deal with intense bouts of illness. My current roommate has managed type-1 diabetes since the age of six, and works hard each day to keep herself alive. Considering we live in a space a tad larger than your average backyard shed, it's impossible to ignore her routine. Because someone with an autoimmune disease has different daily struggles than me, I thought I'd make a list of five things to keep in mind if you're in the same boat.
As hectic as life is right now, that person next to us has to take extra steps to feel normal.
1. Understand that their routine may impact yours.man sitting on surface Photo by Tonny Tran on Unsplash
Depending on their condition, they may wake up several times throughout the night in need of medication, water, or anything else that will soothe their symptoms. In my case, my roommate's continuous glucose monitor beeps frequently, and that's okay. If you're a light sleeper and tend to get annoyed by nuances, you may want to rethink your living situation or gain a new perspective.
2. Be open to learning about their disease.man in gray crew neck t-shirt sitting on brown wooden chair Photo by Lilibeth Bustos Linares on Unsplash
It's important to understand the nature of the disease your roommate, housemate, family member, and/or significant other is dealing with. Consider politely asking the following: how severe is their condition? What causes flare ups? How does the disease work? What do they do to manage the disease, and where are they at with managing the disease right now? If they were recently diagnosed, they may still be figuring out which treatments work best for them.
3. Don't compare your tiredness to theirs.woman wearing white cardigan sitting on bed Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Sure, I've had my fair share of exhaustion in college. But when my roommate tells me her blood sugar is five times higher than it should be, her insulin isn't working, and she's nauseated---now wouldn't be the time to complain about how I feel. You should be able to still complain about life and address your own ailments, but make sure to read the room. Competing for who's most miserable isn't empathy.
4. Know when you need to step-in and help.white and red car on road Photo by José de Azpiazu on Unsplash
People who have chronic illnesses often feel like they're a burden to others. In most cases, they should be fine managing their disease on their own, but there are things you could do to make it easier. If you recognize them having a hard time, ask what they need. That being said, people who have dealt with their condition for a long time learn to ignore their symptoms (or become burned out from taking care of themselves). They may insist they're fine---but if you suspect they're in genuine danger, call 9-1-1. It's better safe than sorry.
5. Learn their medical equipment.person injecting someone on his arm Photo by Hyttalo Souza on Unsplash
If you can learn a new equation for your physics exam, you can learn how to use something your roommate uses everyday. Respect their boundaries---they may not always want your help, but be open to learning how to help them. Sometimes it's nice just to have emotional support when performing regular medical routine. Plus you never know, you may end up saving someone's life with your newly learned knowledge.
6. Be honest about how you feel about their condition.women sitting on rock near body of water Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash
This does not mean disrespecting your roommate for their disease, but rather finding the courage to ask whatever questions you have. I've found that my roommate is happy to answer my curiosities, and in many ways, having my questions answered has quelled my fears about how to handle her medical flare-ups. It's okay if the thought of chronic illness makes you uncomfortable, just understand that when you live with someone with an autoimmune disease, you live with their autoimmune disease too. Establish your worries and let your roommate educate you on how to care for them.
7. Still see them as a whole person and not just someone with "x" disease.man and woman smiling while laying on lawn field Photo by Sam Manns on Unsplash
If you're living with them, you probably care for them a lot. Just remember there are many components to this person who shares your space other than their disease. Don't assume what they can and can not do. Invite them to anything you would if they didn't have an autoimmune disease.
Though there will inevitably be harder days when the disease displays itself as an additional roommate, remember all the reasons why you love this person. Yes, they may have medical equipment strewn about the room and accidentally wake you up in the night. But at the end of the day, that's still the same person you chose to live with for their kindness, humor, and shared interests.