Friendship: How My Chronic Illness Helped
Raise your hand if you wish there was an easy way to weed out the “fake” friends.
Relationships are hard. Friendships are even harder when one person has a chronic illness. Rheumatoid Arthritis, being one of them, puts a massive strain on any relationship because as much as I wish I could disagree, it requires some accommodation.
When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2011 my life changed. I didn’t disclose my condition to anyone except family and work. As I navigated my new medications, I almost completely stopped hanging out with friends, rock-climbing, and socializing in general…
This led to the first purge: every person who only spoke to me when I was physically around but never phoned.
That was easy.
As I felt more comfortable with my condition I told more people. Some were okay with it and asked questions, asked if I need anything, and told me to get in touch with them if I ever needed help. Others became nervous and fidgety and didn’t know what to say or how to act…
And, this was the second round of elimination: every person who thought I was now different.
Which easily fed into the third: every person who talked about their fun weekend plans or outdoors trips right in front of me and never invited me. I mean, I guess this could happen to anyone, not just those with chronic conditions. In my case, people made the decision for me that I couldn't handle an outdoors trip. They assumed I couldn't handle it.
I don't have time for those kinds of people.
I tried to socialize more, rock-climb more, and exercise more. I made plans with the few friends I had left but there was a problem.
Cue the fourth purge: every “friend” who kept asking if I was okay or needed anything special. They meant well but it got annoying after a while. They thought they needed to make special allowances for me whenever we hung out. They thought they had to put in more work.
Of course, they didn't but resented me anyways.
I don't want to be around that!
Now, we’re getting into hurt feelings territory. Up until now, I didn’t really feel like I lost a lot of friends. They felt more like acquaintances I got along with well or better than the average person. Now, I truly felt like I had a solid, good group of friends.
Friendship is a two-way street. I can make the first move but it’s also up to the second person to instigate a conversation sometimes.
“It’s been so long you should have contacted me sooner!”
“You could have talked to me first, you know…It shouldn’t be always on me to start the conversation.”
“I’m sorry…I guess it was one of those ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situations.”
The fifth and final stage: the rub-out. I say rub-out because I chose to sever the connection. Friends don’t just forget about each other especially if they know one is dealing with health issues.
I can forget about you just as easily as you forget about me.
So who does that leave me with?
The good ones, the ones who text or call me once a week to make sure I don’t accidentally fall into a ditch and can’t get out. The ones who understand I might need accommodations but that I can handle them myself. Regardless, they offer to walk my dog or bring me dinner on my more painful days. And finally, the ones who see me, as I am, exactly the same person I was 6 years ago.
Those are true friends. Those are not true friends to a person with a chronic illness. Those are true friends. Period. The type of friend everyone wants. I could have wasted a lot of years maintaining fake friendships, futilely administering CPR on difficult relationships but instead, because of my RA/RD, I have clarity and a whole lot more time to spend on the more important things in life.
Did your chronic illness shed some truth on some of your friendships? How many true friends do you have in your life? Let me know in the comments!
When was your last flare?