Chronic Illness and Friendship


It’s hard enough making friends as an adult. Over the years I’ve done all the things people say to do: join a mom’s group; join a church group; join the PTA; take a class and meet people with common interests.  Etc., etc., etc.

And I’ve made a few close friends over the years and I value them dearly. But throw into the mix a chronic illness, with unpredictable flares, and well, that can sometimes make things all the more complicated.

I’m a social person. I LOVE to be with my friends. I love to make plans. But chronic illness takes a look at all of that, throws its head back and laughs maniacally as you try to live your life like every other average Joe.

Plans get cancelled. Sometimes a lot. And almost always last minute. And every time I have to make that call, or that text, I feel like the biggest jerk walking the Earth. I’m afraid. I’m afraid people won’t understand. I’m afraid people will think me a liar, or a hypochondriac, or just a plain old asshole.

And so when that happens and I have to cancel plans, sometimes even regardless of how the other person reacts, I usually break down into pathetic sobs. Partly because I feel like I’m that asshole, partly because I’m frustrated with the unpredictability of my illness, and partly because I’m feeling sorry for myself.

Old friends usually get it. I’m sure they can get frustrated just like me, but usually they are supportive. It’s hard making new friends, though. It’s hard because you get invited to make plans with people and then you have to give them some wishy washy answer because you know that usually the activities they want to include you on will test your endurance – physically, emotionally, mentally. And these activities are not things like mountain climbing in the Rockies. These plans are more like a night of dancing, or a hike through the woods.

I usually try to stay upbeat and positive. I don’t like to allow myself to wallow in negativity for too long, it kills the soul. That in and of itself can make it all the harder because I tend to show most people only the positive. Only the happy. Only the capable. So when they get on the receiving end of what they can easily perceive as flakey behavior, I feel like I lose credibility.

I hate this disease. I hate how it’s changed my life and I can’t do all the things I once did. I hate how every waking moment revolves around this disease. I hate that it impacts my relationships the way it does.

And yet.

If it wasn’t for this disease, I wouldn’t be on the path I am now. I wouldn’t have the renewed determination to finish my academic goals. I wouldn’t be on my way to helping those suffering with the same disease I am, as well as a host of other chronic illnesses. Because I want to be that provider. The one people come to when they need a health care advocate who thinks outside the box, and has the tenacity of a pit bull.

I just hope to take a few good friends with me along for the ride.