Friendship: How My Chronic Illness Helped

Raise your hand if you wish there was an easy way to weed out the “fake” friends.

There is!

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.

Until…

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!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (7)
  • sandymm
    1 year ago

    Yes, I have found out who my “real” friends are now. I thought I had several, but all have disappeared but two. I cherish the two friends I have and they accept me for the way I am and the way I look. I have been on Prednisone for some time and so of course have the moon face and look entirely different from the long , high cheek boned face I always had. I can no longer drop things and go in a moment’s notice. I admit it hurt for a long time and I still sometimes cannot believe that I am forgotten. I lost my husband and within weeks I was diagnosed with heart failure. I have completed rehab and that is in the back of my mind, and then was diagnosed with RA , mostly caused from my care giving to my husband for so long. I am so glad to read that others are experiencing the loss of so called ‘friends’ and I am not alone. Thank you.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thank YOU for sharing, sandymm…I am so sorry you had to deal with all this.

    I also have two friends. One, just this weekend, asked me if I needed a piggy-back ride because my hips had seized up and we were on our feet for a while. I wanted to cry and hug him because he is the only one who doesn’t blanket say “tell me if you need something”. He just offers exactly what I need.

    I still also mourn my “past life” where I could change my plans quickly and join my friends on some trip or outing. I definitely cannot do that anymore either!

    Thank you so much for commenting on my article!! All the best, Monica

  • cheeflo
    1 year ago

    I have found that people don’t beat a path to your door when you have a chronic disease. I know they care, but they tend to be rather obtuse when it comes to really understanding what I contend with on a daily basis. Because it’s an invisible disease and complaining serves no purpose, they just assume everything is hunky dory and are astonished when I can’t turn a doorknob or pick up the cat, or resort to an oddball workaround for a simple task because they don’t spend enough time around me to really know. They get a little ache or pain of their own and think they know something about my experience.

    It makes for a rather solitary existence. I know a lot of people and consider them friends, but I am not, shall we say … on their list of things to do. They mean well but they’re just not all that thoughtful. Fortunately, my siblings and I are great friends and they are tuned in.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    I am glad you have your siblings for support. I find it becomes a true ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation except with some select people and I agree, I lead a very solitary existence.

    Interestingly, I have actually had the opposite experience where people don’t want to talk about their injuries because “I feel bad talking to you about a hurt knee when you are in constant pain”….I mean, I guess it’s good they are acknowledging that I am in pain…but, we can’t be friends if we don’t equally share…I don’t know, but it makes me sad when people say that.

    Thanks for sharing cheeflo and commenting on my article!! ~Monica

  • cheeflo
    1 year ago

    I do find that people see me as a benchmark to assess their own discomfort. I don’t think they realize that a) it’s not a contest, and b) I am not defined by the disease. They shouldn’t trivialize their own suffering because they think it may pale in comparison to my own, but that does seem to be a common response.

    On the other hand, when I see people whose limitations are clearly more challenging than mine, I tend to think I don’t have any problems at all.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    RA and ankylosing spondylitis made me a better person, husband, father, grandfather and friend. Like you I just have fewer friends, but I like them better. Much better.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    My relationships are completely different. They feel more wholesome sometimes. I know I have grown and changed and what I look for in a friendship is completely different than 10 years ago but my RA has made me…as you said a better person too!

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