Since I became ill, almost a decade ago, I've struggled with how to best communicate my symptoms and experiences to doctors, colleagues, bosses, acquaintances, and even those i'm closest with. In fact the most difficult conversations have been with my family and friends; not because i feel i can't confide in them, but because confiding in them opens up wounds, instils worries and fears in them that i don't want to impart on anyone, least of all those i love.
The trouble with this is that withholding information from certain areas of my life only makes it more complicated. When i act like some sort of film classification board; deciding what health information is 12A certified and who can tolerate the +18 content, i only stunt my own ability to feel full love and support in certain places. Acting like i have the right to decide what someone else can 'handle' is not essentially my choice to make.
The most challenging part of adapting to this has been in my relationships with my friends. Since my diagnosis, I've found friends gradually dissipate from my life. I've felt like i'm standing on the edge of a shore watching them slowly slip into the ocean and theirs little to nothing i can do to pull them back. This is something I've struggled to comprehend as when someone causes you pain or hurt, the first response is often to blame yourself. So when I've lost friends I've immediately blamed my illness and my lack of being a 'good friend' on it. I've told myself its my fault because i'm not 'present' enough in their lives, or 'fun' enough anymore. But what I've had to learn, the hard way is that i shoudln’t have to feel pressure to be either of those things.
Friendship, like any good relationship is built on communication, equal compromise, and a love of high quality emoji usage. For me to assume that because I've had a major life change that often limits my ability to do certain things, that its natural people will no longer want to be around me; is incredibly upsetting and just plain inaccurate. Friendships should weather the good and bad, the break-ups and the babies, the new jobs and the new homes, all of life’s rich tapestry, short lived joining of tapestry classes; you get the general idea. So when one half of that friendship encounters a BIG BAD THING(™) in their life, the other half should be the solid pier to stand on while the waves are crashing, not the person floating off into the distance on the HMS F-YOU.
For anyone who is very invested in their relationships, and in trying to be the best friend they can be, there will always be moments where you will feel let down. Not everyone is going to love you the way that you love. That can be a hard pill to swallow, and believe me; I've swallowed a lot of pills.
Much of moving past the pain of a friendship-based rejection comes from acceptance of who you are and who your friends are. With growing older comes changes in everyone’s life, nothing will ever stay the same as it was when you were 10 or even 20. But valued friends on both sides will attempt to put themselves as far into their friends shoes as they can. Good friends will even borrow those shoes AND give them back within a reasonable time frame.
I can't expect my friends to feel what i feel. Their experiences can't match mine, as mine theirs. But we can empathise with one another, listen, attempt to understand. There is essentially no right or wrong: if a friend can't cope with having an 'ill' friend, or doesn’t feel any value in the friendship any longer, then its best for both parties to sail off into their own proverbial sunset. Pushing for love and understanding where it can't be found is painful and when living with illness, this is simply an added upset that we don't need. No one does.
Despite what every 'inspirational quote' from here to the end of the rainbow might suggest, chronic illness does impact our ability to do certain things and perform certain activities. It can limit our time socialising, or force us to cancel plans at the last minute. All of which i know must be infuriating for our friends. But if we can communicate comfortably and fully with one another on what we want and need then we should be able to reach a point of mutual compromise. Much like the one i have with my partner where i ask him to put the toilet seat down and he compromises by 'forgetting'.
There is always a place of compromise with the right people. Those who love you and want to be in your life will always understand. We can keep one another afloat. Even when it feels like one of us is being brutally mauled by a killer shark. And with that, i throw this analogy directly into the ocean where it belongs. x
P.S. High fives and bosom-y hugs to all my choppy and still-water friends: i love you more than all the fish in the ocean and i'm sorry for continuing this analogy long after i promised to throw it into the ocean. x