[Journal] Friends and chronic illness

To start, I’d like to clarify that this isn’t me seeking attention or looking for sympathy. This is me trying to make sense out of a series of situations I’ve been in recently and to work out where I stand in it all. This also isn’t directed at any one specific person, but is a collection of memories from past and present friendships, written at a very emotional point tonight.

I’ve written in the past about how maintaining friendships is a challenge when one is chronically ill. Regardless of what you’ve been afflicted with, it makes an impact on your life that few people can understand. I’ve written about how a careless word here or there can really bring someone’s world down around them. I’ve also written about how lonely it can get when one is cooped up at home all day, every day.

This post is more than that. To me, this is an attempt to make sense of everything I’ve been through with past and present friends to date.

Right now it’s almost 11pm. I’m sitting in bed with my laptop and I’ve just had a good 20 minute sob to Manthing about how unfair it is that people just don’t ‘get it’. I’ve had 7 days of above-average pain. It’s worn me down in places I’m not usually aware of. I’m beyond exhausted. Because of how run down I am, I’m in more pain than the last few days, anyway. I won’t lie. This is hard. This is really, really hard.

I used to tell people that I was very lucky because my support network for hard times like these were a select few friends I could call upon, whenever. Some online, some a few suburbs away. In fact, before myself and Manthing were a ‘thing’, there was one night when I had hit my first 9 on the pain scale. It was 3am and he had work the next day, but I could still ring him up and he talked to me on the phone for about an hour until my painkillers had kicked in and I could sleep.

In the last few years, this has changed. I find myself here on a night like tonight with almost no support network whatsoever. People have gone their own ways, life has changed, things have come up. One friend decided it was okay to treat his friends like shit. Another got a girlfriend and suddenly didn’t have time anymore. Another couldn’t understand that being sick wasn’t like being in bed with the flu. Another still decided to tell me that my illness was THEIR problem. One by one, all the people I felt I could approach at that 3am mark drifted away and left me here on my own little island of Fuck, where I find myself tonight.

I guess this entry is a bit of lamenting the fact that I feel so alone right now. Once upon a time, if a friend caught wind that I wasn’t doing so well, I’d have an SMS within minutes. I’d get a check-in every now and then. “Just thinking of you. Hope you’re okay.” I’d get a message online or they’d even just show up out of the blue. Once, I had someone even deliver a care package because I had spent the week in bed. You know who you are, and you should know I genuinely cried, even through I didn’t say anything out of pride when it happened. It’s the little things that turn a fucking awful situation into a not so bad one. It’s knowing that someone has your back that can sometimes give you the strength to get through the day. Right now, thanks to the pain and the depression, I feel like I could vanish for a month at a time and nobody would even know I was gone.

For what it’s worth, I always did what I could. I like to see myself as ‘that friend’. The one that would always check in. If you were having a shitty day, I’d send you an awful joke or a picture. If you were stuck in bed, I made digital get well cards. Driving an hour out of my way to help a friend out even though I wasn’t in the best state wasn’t something I thought twice about. I just did it because they needed me there. I’m the one that left the messages. “If you ever need an ear or someone to talk to, I’m here.” Maybe I wasn’t that person to everyone. Maybe I wasn’t that person to anyone. But god help me, I tried. I genuinely tried to be the best friend I could be.

As I got more and more sick, sometimes I’d miss a beat. Sometimes there’d be a week where I was stuck in bed and didn’t know you were upset. I tried to catch up and still check in. I really did. With more than a few people, I tried to organise times when I was well enough to meet up, but they were always busy. Things don’t often work the way we plan, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t genuinely put an effort in.

Right now, I feel empty. I feel like, for everything that I’ve been through, I only have Manthing with me. I feel so alienated from other people that it physically aches in my chest. People I used to be really close to. I think at one point I had half a dozen people and I felt so very special because of it. I think about all the 3am nights we used to spend out getting slushies and I cry. Things aren’t that way anymore. I think about the skype calls we had where we’d see who could burp the loudest and it hurts.Β  You got a girlfriend and I vanished off the face of the earth to you.Β  I remember the times we used to make running jokes and confuse everyone else in the room. You don’t even answer my messages now.

I think about how, once, I felt like I had people who were involved in my life enough that, when I needed someone to vent to, they understood I wasn’t looking for attention. I just needed someone that understood what I was going through. I know I’m not the easiest person to be friends with. I really do understand that. I’m a lot of work. I ask things of people, I can’t always go out or catch up and sometimes I hurt people because of it. But seriously, do you think that it hurts any less for me? I’m the token cripple friends. I’m the one people make allowances for. I’m the one that forgets and needs assistance during games. I’m the one that makes the group walk slower. But I’m still human.

Yes, I do still have friends, and people I talk to occasionally, but it’s not easy. Imagine how it feels to not be able to talk about some things because they just don’t understand – or, in same cases, just don’t give a shit. Imagine someone walking away mid-conversation when you’re trying to explain why you were so sick yesterday. I’m the one that has to make the allowances for other people. I have to watch my words so other people aren’t accidentally offended because they can’t deal with their own stresses. I have to curb my own humour because, god forbid, someone might be offended by a joke I make about myself. I have to constantly remind people that, for me to go out somewhere requires some planning. I can’t just get an invite half an hour before X starts. I often don’t have money with over $200 of medication per month. I am a difficult person to be friends with, but I’d like to think that I’m no less worthy of friendship for it.

I’m genuinely afraid of making new friends, even thought I’ve tried. Try to imagine what it feels like to be immediately judged as being ‘too hard’ or ‘too much work’ the moment you mention chronic illness. On top of dealing with all my other physical issues, I then have this exhausting charade of social interaction, and it wears me out.

I won’t lie. I have very little patience for those that can’t accept me as I am, but I’m desperate. I want friends and I’ll take what I can get.

I do still have people that genuinely give a shit about me, and I them. People that don’t care if I’m in my pijamas when they show up. People that are happy to change plans to a night in when I can’t move. People that don’t hate me for something I have no control over. I hope that, one day, they read this part and understand. But those are far and few between, and with some, we barely even talk anymore.

I don’t even know if I’ve made much sense with this post. Manthing actually pushed me to blog about it and, in it’s own way, it’s been a bit cathartic. That little voice of anxiety in my head warns me that I might offend or upset a past or present friend reading this, but then the little logical Abi in the front of my head says “Let them be.” I guess if someone’s offended by this, it’s because they feel that there’s an ounce of truth in my writing. Let them fix it. If someone feels a prickle with one of the things I wrote, it’ll be because they relate to something in there. It’s never my intention to offend with these things, but people are stupid. If there’s an issue, do something about it.

After a solid half hour of writing, I’m thoroughly exhausted and no less miserable, but I’ll leave it here for tonight.

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10 thoughts on “[Journal] Friends and chronic illness

  1. Abi, I can’t find an email address to contact you privately, so I’ll say a little bit of what I’d originally intended to right here. (I hope that’s okay.)

    Firstly, I won’t insult your intelligence by professing to understand what you’ve been going through with your illness and the resulting depression. I couldn’t possibly know because I’m not you. I haven’t walked in your shoes.

    Secondly, it took courage for you to post about this, and a lot of the feelings you’ve outlined are feelings I go through as well. It’s hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other when there’s fewer and fewer people around that actually seem to care. It’s really really hard. You feel isolated, and for someone like me who’s a depression sufferer, isolation is the enemy.

    Thirdly, I won’t promise that I’d make a terribly good friend but it would gladden this heart of mine should you feel like striking up a correspondence. I love making friends (which is ironic since I have very few of those).

    Anyway, I’ll that there for you to do with as you will. I’ll take no offense should you choose to pass. I am a complete stranger after all, and in this day and age we can’t be too careful! πŸ™‚

  2. You are so brave to write this and put it out there for the world to see – hopefully people reading it will understand more about what youre going through and maybe, just maybe itll give people the incentive to be ‘that person’ and help a friend out.
    Coming from a person who has chronic fatigue and knows where youre coming from – I admire your strength, your courage and your determination. This too, shall pass…

    • It took a bit of a kick up the bum from dear Manthing to put this to paper. I guess that, so often I’m more worried about upsetting other people than working towards my own happiness, that things like this get pushed to the wayside until I reach boiling point. Even if specifically my friends don’t read this, maybe someone else in my position will, and I want them to know that sometimes you WILL feel this way about friendship. Like you said, “This too, shall pass” and I’m sure I’ll find myself in a much better headspace in a few days time, but right now, it’s totally okay for me, or you, or anyone else for that matter, to feel like this. Thank you very much for taking the time to leave a comment ❀

  3. (((((hugs)))))
    I understand. I don’t have a manthing anymore since he decided to leave me without telling me last year. I do have 2 amazing daughters tho. But, like you I have lost friends because of my illness. My life used to be full. Busy with people and lots of conversations and laughs. Not now. My closest friends all live miles away.
    I always have hugs to give – got lots going spare if ever you need one, even if it is via the internet, it might help a little

      • You’re very welcome. I agree πŸ™‚ it’s definitely one of the things I like best about WordPress……there’s a sense of community without all the “noise” of most other social media πŸ™‚

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