Making and maintaining friendships with chronic illnesses can be especially difficult. When we are children, there’s a chance that someone will just find us and latch on as a friend, or maybe we were the outgoing ones, but as we get older, there’s much more judgment and expectation from our relationships.
For myself, my illnesses are compounded by anxiety, PTSD, and being introverted, and I have an incredibly difficult time making new friends.
I’ve also found that when you become sick, and it doesn’t go away, you tend to weed out friends pretty quickly. Those who used to call weekly, or text every few days to see how you are, stop calling. New people you meet aren’t sure what to say or do, maybe because they’re meeting you in your brokenness and not your former glory.
Some people are afraid to reach out, or are so introverted themselves that they rely on us to contact them, and they don’t realize how impossible that feels some days.
On top of my anxiety, and my need for quietly controlled interactions, I have a hard time making plans because I don’t know from one day to the next how I will feel. In general, I feel much more human than I have in years, but still wear down quickly.
I’ve never been good at being the first to call or text, largely due to a debilitating fear of rejection. It started as shyness when I was young, and now has evolved into a certainty that nobody wants to be friends with a sick person.
But that isn’t the truth. Plenty of people with chronic illnesses have friends, people who love them and would lay down their lives for them.
It’s too easy to fall into self pity: “Sue has more friends than me because they raised $10,000 for her medical expenses,” “Joe is more loved because his friends brought food when he couldn’t cook,” “someone else got something, while I got nothing, why do my friends not love me…”
I find myself thinking sometimes about how society jumps at the drop of a hat to raise money for people who are diagnosed with cancer, yet when someone is diagnosed with Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Addison’s, etc., there is no community fundraiser, no awareness walks, no show of solidarity. Friends stick with us through the initial illness, but some of them drift away the longer we are sick.
Friendship is more important now than it ever was pre-diagnosis. We need to know we aren’t alone, we aren’t burdens, we aren’t a drain on those who love us. We know that being our friends can be emotionally overwhelming at times, especially if we are frequent flyers at the emergency room. Being our friend can be taxing.
But it also can be exceptionally rewarding! We are not just sick or disabled, we are warriors! We fight every day for our survial, and often fight louder than others for what we believe in. We know life is too short to go it alone, and cherish the people who stay with us through it all.
I’ve only been diagnosed six months, but I’ve been sick a lot longer than that. The friends I’ve made since then, and the ones who have stayed by my side are precious and rare gems.
Friendship offers hope.
If you’re a friend to someone with chronic illness, consider ways you can show your friends that they are valuable to you, that they have meaning in your life. Bring a casserole, help with chores, bring chocolate and a movie some afternoon, call, text, check in. Most importantly, let us know that you see us, and that we aren’t alone.