Friendship and Chronic Illness
By: Lydia Andrew
Friendships are an important part of life. Some come and go but the ones that remain or that are formed in the most challenging of circumstances, are the ones that make life worth living.
I used to think I had lots of friends. It turns out that actually I only have a few and a lot of acquaintances. That may be true for a lot of people but I think having a chronic illness, like myself, complicates relationships. Being my friend presents challenges that healthy people don’t have to consider. On a practical level, I always have to think about any social event I’m trying to participate in and prepare in advance for. It is difficult to be carefree and spontaneous. There are always meds, kits and appointments to work with and I often have to cancel plans last minute. I carry this burden that I can be a constant disappointment. It is hard to explain the severity of my situation to anyone without feeling I am burdening them with the worry and responsibility if something were to go wrong. I long to be able to travel freely, but the reality is everything has to be planned. Having chronic illnesses makes you grow up fast and I often feel much older than my years. I worry that I am not the fun person I’d like to be or that people want me to be.
Given all of this, I really appreciate the friends that I do have and I am sad about the ones I have lost along the way. I think it must be hard for people to know how to play it, what to say and how to be around someone that is sick. I feel perhaps some people would rather not deal with it than have to try and think around my needs. But at the end of the day, if I am a friend worth having, communication and empathy surely is key.
Most people don’t understand how life feels on toxic medications, how could they? Invisible illnesses are perhaps the most difficult to understand.
The advice I would offer is embrace the person, don’t be frightened or offended. I am living my life to the best of my ability and not everything around me is heavy or difficult.
I have an amazing friend that has travelled this journey with me since we were at school. She isn’t ill herself, but she is like a sister and I can always count on her for emotional support. She always goes above and beyond; we message each other most days, she cancels plans if I need to see her and understands the enormity of my situation. She doesn’t just contact me when she knows I’m ill or in the hospital. She recently sent me a message about the differences between Validation and Hope and Toxic Positivity and knowing she understands to this level, is invaluable. The important thing for me about our friendship is the normality of it. I also have a few chronically ill friends that laugh and cry with me, and no explanations is necessary… they just understand.
Below is the chart that my friend sent me from @sitwithwhit.