One of the great difficulties with chronic illness is that you can no longer do the activities you used to share with your friends. Understandably they still enjoy those activities and will probably continue doing them without you. I certainly wouldn’t want any of my friends to miss out on any opportunity to have fun. But in order to keep their friendship with you, they have to be willing to adapt to connecting with you in different ways. This will usually mean having to find extra time for you. Friends who consistently do that are extremely valuable. But many people might struggle to do it, especially when coming to see you for a half an hour chat might not mean as much to them as it does to you. Others sometimes worry about tiring you out and may think it’s best not to bother you. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t value your friendship, perhaps they are just not very skilful at adapting to new situations.
We are the experts in how we have to adapt to our illness so it’s up to us to share that knowledge with our friends. It may feel a bit strange that, as the sick person, we have to take responsibility for maintaining our friendships but it can reap great rewards if we choose to do so. We need to be willing to remind our friends that we like to spend time with them; that small amounts of time mean a great deal to us; that it’s nice to connect. We need to clearly communicate how best to keep contact in keeping with our new energy levels. I think it also helps to show gratitude for the fact that they are willing to adapt to our illness needs. Most people will feel really good about supporting a friend in need and we can help them experience that pleasure if we choose to guide them towards it!
Sometimes though, taking responsibility can get tiring. I had a little blip this week when I found out that a friend who lives a couple of hours away didn’t let me know that she was in the area. I made an assumption that this was because she didn’t want the hassle of trying to make time for me. Even though I was aware that I shouldn’t make assumptions because they are nearly always wrong and you can never know what’s going on inside of someone else’s head, I felt hurt. It also ate into the sadness I feel about another friend who lives far away but has been in the vicinity various times this year without finding the time to catch up with me. I felt the losses of my previous life again. Perhaps my friends would want to spend time with me if we could have a wild night out or a long boozy lunch. No matter how well we adapt to our condition we are vulnerable to feeling low from time to time. I accept these feelings as a natural response to the illness. That day I accepted that I didn’t feel up to talking myself out of them, I just let myself be miserable. It’s impossible to have happy feelings all the time. The next day I woke up feeling a little better. Then my lovely friend called me and we talked through what had happened, and of course all my assumptions had been wrong. All it took to sort it all out, was our willingness to communicate.
Let your friends know how best they can stay a part of your life. If you take this responsibility most (although perhaps not all) will find a way to adapt!
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