People are messy. If you’ve ever raised a toddler, you’re most likely nodding your head and offering me a hearty “amen!” However, I’m talking about a different kind of messy. The one that implies we humans aren’t always simple, drama-free, uncomplicated or easy to understand.
Perhaps you have experienced this “messiness” in your friendships as you navigate the highs and lows of Fibromyalgia, chronic illness and rare diseases. You love your friends, but you don’t always love how they respond in your time of need. You adore your people, but you wonder if perhaps they might be available to come down off their high horse any time soon and give you a hug? In general, I’ve found my friends have a myriad of responses to my ailments and illnesses. There are:
These friends might be what your parents would have called “fair-weather friends”. Whatever the reason, they aren’t equipped to cope with the magnitude of your pain. Maybe they don’t know what to say or feel about your circumstance, so they end up vanishing.
These friends can’t understand why you feel the need to talk about your illness so much. They’re perplexed by why you can’t do the things you once could. They continue to pressure you to do things you’ve told them over and over again your body can’t do. They’ve never faced anything remotely similar to what you’re going through, nor have taken the time to learn about your illness. Yet, they feel it’s their job to coach you on how you should handle your circumstances. They tell you how you should and shouldn’t feel and what you’re doing wrong.
These friends are in it with you through thick and thin. Their hearts break to see you hurting. They constantly ask, “What can I do for you? How can I help?” Your grief and processing are met with love and not judgment. They love you on your worst days just as much as your best. They meet you with practical help whenever possible and go out of their way to let you know you are seen and your story matters. These friends carry you through the darkest days of your life.
Illness can be the great “friend sifter”, and while I wouldn’t wish illness on anyone, this friend sifting doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Knowing who is in our corner for the long haul and who we can count on when it really matters is a gift.
We all reach a point in our lives where we no longer wish to invest in fruitless relationships. Illness pushes us to this point much faster. We no longer have the energy to invest in relationships that lack depth and staying power. Now, it’s all about quality versus quantity. All we really need are a few friends we can count on when things get hard.
I’m not going to lie. They’re hard. When you’re sick, you get kind of get flaky. You can’t make plans far in advance because you can’t predict a good or bad day. If you do make plans, it is more than likely that you’ll have to back out. I can’t even count (I could, but it would make me sick) how much money I’ve wasted on concert tickets over the years. Now, if I can’t buy a ticket the day of/it sells out, I don’t go, for example
I was inspired by a Twitter conversation to write about how to be a good friend someone with chronic illness. You need to remember that chronic illness can come in so many forms – mental health, neurological health, autoimmune disorders, among many others. Some are obvious and talked about, but others might be more hidden. However, if you know your friend is sick (maybe they send this to you…) here are some tips for chronic illness friendships! Also, remember that chronic illnesses don’t go away. They’re chronic. It’s not like a broken leg that heals. Your friend will be battling a big monster of illness for the rest of her life. Your friendship can change her life more than you can ever know. When you get sick, friends are a precious commodity. Good friends are more precious than gold. I will admit that this list was really hard to write. Not because the tips are hard to give, but because it is an emotionally charged subject for me. Like I said above, a good friend is more precious than gold. I don’t have the kind of friends that I describe below, so maybe it’s more of a wish list. Also, these tips can be a good reminder on how to be good friend to anyone. Friendships take work, if you want to have good ones. [Tweet “If you have good friends, don’t take them for granted. #friendship”]
- Quality Time