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,

Kindra x

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4 thoughts on “Chronic Pain and the Erosion of Self: Friendships

  1. I struggle often with not feeling well enough to go out, and having the desire to see people but not the energy to arrange to do so. One friend of mine is also chronically ill, and so it’s easy with her–we see each other far less than we’d like, but we don’t judge each other for that, which is a huge relief. One thing I do remind myself of is that if someone really is my friend, they can handle my physical limitations. What they can’t/won’ handle is if I become obsessed with self-pity, or hold myself to a ridiculously high standard that doesn’t allow me to be human. It’s always a balancing act, though, and I wish it were easier for all of us to exist in a place where our bodies didn’t impact our ability to have friendships.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we have to remember that the personality traits and values that our true friends liked about are still there. You’re right that it’s takes continue thought & effort to maintain our friendships. Re. becoming obsessed with self-pity – personally I think that’s a character trait too. If a person is that way inclined then that’s how they’ll respond to all difficulties and challenges in life. We’re entitled to feel down about our chronic illnesses sometimes but if you weren’t inclined towards self-pity before, I don’t think chronic illness will make it a permanent feature of your character. Just my opinion of course 😊 Thanks for reading & taking time to comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is a great post. When I first became ill I had to remove a lot of people from my life who couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the new me, but once I had life was much better. I’m much better at being an online friend than I am a real life friend, and as a lot of my friends are other spoonies they get it. My bestie is a lot younger than me (16 years) and she’s recently gone on a health kick and is going to loads of classes and things which I can’t, so I’m not seeing a lot of her at all, but I know she’s doing her thing and that’s fine. All my good friends know I can’t do much physical, and I think you can hold onto a friendship pretty well by being attentive online. It’s worked for me so far, at least. 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I think we can still be interested and involved in what’s going on with our friends if as you say we work on via our iPhone / tablets 🙂
      Chronic illness is an effective if kinda brutal way of finding out who are friends that value you through thick and thin & who you were just a convenience for. I’m going to give online Spoonie friends a post of their own; they totally deserve it!
      Thanks so much for stopping by & commenting, I appreciate it xx

      Like

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