Making & maintaining friendships when chronically ill.
Making friends can be a difficult and daunting experience for anyone, never mind when you are sick. From childhood I can remember finding it difficult to make friends, especially seeing as though I was fat, ginger, had glasses and braces so I was basically a bullies dream. There are the awkward situations when you are socially forced to make friends, like the first day of school when kids look around the room looking for potential “BFF’s” and moving to University and into a house with people you may have never met before. As you get older you don’t really have situations like that so making friends becomes harder and harder, especially if you are socially awkward like me. It’s not just about making friends, it’s about maintaining those friendships you already have and this can be difficult when you are chronically ill.
Since being diagnosed with many invisible illnesses my social life has understandably gone downhill, much like my health. I used to be the life and soul of the party and was always up for a laugh. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and sometimes even Sunday nights were spent getting dressed up and having fun with my friends. We would go into town and dance and drink the night away, go to theme parks, out for meals, on crazy holidays and adventures; then I got ill. My health deteriorated and I was no longer able to do the things I used to do. A lot of the friends I used to do these things with slowly began to disappear. I would be, and still often am, invited on nights out and would have to decline due to my ill health. I worry that people think I am making excuses but I’m really not. I struggle to make plans because I hate letting people down and what I do each day depends entirely on my health, so if I have to cancel then I am truly sorry. I grieve for the life and friendships I used to have, but I think that is a part of being ill. You begin to realise who really are your friends and who never really were to begin with. The true friends make changes and realise that you can’t do what you used to do and instead spend time with you in a different way, like watching TV shows or just being there with you whilst you are unwell. I can imagine that it’s also difficult for my friends. I am no longer the crazy party animal that I used to be and I guess that can be hard for people to take in and accept but I am still me and I do still like to have fun, it’s just that I have had to adjust what I can do for fun now. I am extremely grateful for the friends who have stood by me through everything. I may not have as many “friends” as I used to but I sure know that I have the best ones and that’s all I need!
As I have said a lot of my old “friends” disappeared out the picture when I got sick, however I have also made many new friendships through being sick. When you are ill you spend a lot of time at home and this often leads to browsing the internet and social networks. There are many support groups online and these have been a blessing to me. I have met numerous people, many in my local area, who are going through similar situations to me and I have developed amazing friendships with them. I have even made friends when I have been admitted to the hospital. I hate that these friends are unwell and I would do anything to take away their pain but unfortunately I do not have the power to do this, but I do have the power to be there for them. I guess it’s sometimes easier to maintain a friendship with someone who is chronically ill themselves because you can understand each other and what you are both going through. If you make plans with someone and they have to cancel then you fully understand as you often find yourself in that position. As much as healthy people try to understand, I think that it is always difficult to understand a situation unless you are going through it yourself. The friendships I have made through being sick are often very close ones because we share a lot with each other, including embarrassing things like our bowel movements! I may not get to see these friends as often as desired because we all have lots of medical appointments to attend and if we do make plans one of us could unfortunately be too sick on the day. They say that every cloud has a silver lining and these friendships are my silver living of being ill. Our paths may have never crossed if I hadn’t been diagnosed with EDS, PoTS and the other horrible conditions I live with and so for that I thank you my dodgy genetics!
Love & hugs,