Chronic Pain and the Erosion of Self: Friendships
My relationships with the people in my life come in all shapes and sizes and every single one has been impacted by my chronic illness. Being my friend isn’t easy, but that’s hardly surprising since Chronic Life is challenging in many ways. The hard fact of the matter is that some friendships don’t survive hard times and when you’re chronically ill, the hard times can go on for a loooong time.
Friendships don’t always last even when chronic illness and disability aren’t a factor. People go in different directions in life, develop different priorities and lifestyles. Friendships don’t necessarily end with a blazing argument or other such drama; some just aren’t built to last. I’m now in my mid-30s and long ago came to the conclusion that friendships really are a matter of valuing quality over quantity. I have many acquaintances but a small handful of people who I could call at 3am with an emergency situation and know they’d have my back; these people know that the same applies if they need me.
There’s no avoiding the fact that my illness changes the friendship landscape though. It can be a long time between visits or outings with my friends. My condition renders me unreliable re. making social plans, something that I find infuriating as I’m not unreliable by nature. It makes me reluctant to makes plans at all; I loath having to text on the day & say that I can’t move. The fact that I’m in terrible pain as well as immobile means that just saying ‘come to my place instead’ usually isn’t an option.
It is also all too easy for me to speak to my friends less and less. So much of my life is dominated by my condition that I sometimes feel like it must be a chore to listen to an update from my life, especially when there is little or no progress on the medical front to report.
I don’t have a magical answer for these problems by any means, but I’ve started to figure out ways to maintain important friendships. Even though I can’t see people often, I try to keep contact going via text, phone & email. I might not be able to, for example, make it to my best friend’s gigs (she’s a singer and a very talented one, you can check out her folk & blues gorgeousness here) but I try to keep an eye on the dates so I can at least give her a call the next morning and hear all about it. It’s not unusual for me to have a functional hour or two in the middle of the night which obviously isn’t the time find calling people but it’s a good opportunity to email a friend.
There are changes I need to broach to enable me see more of the people I care about. My natural inclination is to hide away in the dark during high pain days for obvious reasons but I’ve also developed the habit of not wanting people to see me when I’m well enough to sit up but not go out. If I can find a way to allow visits at such times, from people who have in all honesty seen me looking like crap before, I know it will do me good. I also need to be bolder when it comes to calling my close friends at those random and all to scarce times that I’m mobile – I know that if they can possibly free themselves up for a visit from me, they will.
It’s important to remind myself that while my condition causes significant inconvenience to those close to me, there are reasons that I have these people in my life to begin with. I’m a loyal and supportive friend and am able to find the humour in most situations. I’m happy to listen to the worries of my close friends whether they’re huge issues or relatively minor ones and give them considered advice if they ask for it. We Spoonies have to remember that we are more than our illness or disability; we are worth being friends with!
Do you have any particular strategies for maintaining your friendships?
Wishing you good luck and happy days,
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