I can remember many years ago, the first time I lost a friendship, how much it hurt and how acutely I felt the loss. Back then I ‘grieved’ and did my best to move on. This was made somewhat easier by the fact that I could go about my regular routine and even go for a long walk to help deal with some of the emotions I was going through. Taking a walk or exercising helps release a lot of energy and some endorphins but I don’t have that ability anymore as much as I dearly treasured it.
Over the last few years I have had a crash course in learning how to accept the changes of life and how people come and go in our lives. The old saying about people being in our lives for “…a reason, a season or forever…” is as timeless as it is true.
We accept that people and times change and that we all have our own journey which means we may make, and lose friends unpredictably and, sometimes, unexpectedly.
The making and losing of friendships is a lot more difficult when you have an illness. It affected me in ways that healthier people may never understand. I hope that they never have to know either. At first I felt it more deeply as I was going through a change in my identity and rebuilding my self worth again.
Also, when you become ill it is a lot harder to find the energies to make friendships and to sustain them. But they also take on such deeper meaning because our worlds are much changed by our illness.
Firstly when I became Ill it took me a very long time to come to terms with how much and how deeply I had changed and learning to value myself again. My physical abilities and predictability has changed irreversibly; at least while there is no cure. The things I would like to do with, and for, my existing friends may no longer be possible. This is a huge transition for my friends too. The picture that they had developed in their hearts and mind of who I was had to undergo a lot of change. Sometimes these changes meant that the friendships may not be able to continue. I can accept that now. I can face that now. But it took a long time to understand that it wasn’t all entirely my fault. Life can step in and alter our paths and its just a part of the enigma that is life. Life is always changing and always surprising. I felt for both me AND the friend. Trish was changed but the friendship wasn’t able to adapt.
Those friendships that survived the transition are constantly tested by extended periods of flares, pain and unavailability. As much as I don’t like this new reality, I have had time to accept it and had to make room for it; although it still hurts when I dearly want to be there for special occasions but that is a topic for another time.
I have heard so many heartbreakingly similar accounts from other sufferers. So many lost friendships and hurt feelings. Gaps left in lives that are difficult to fill. I wish I could help more but I know it is part of their journey to come to terms with too.
I have decided to deal with this new life by being open and transparent with my friendships. I feel I owe it to them that they should know some of the truth of how things are now. If our friendship is going to end then at least we will all part knowing the truth. The truth of what my illnesses does and when. If this is too much for them to bare then I will accept that more readily than if they didn’t know why I was not able to be there for them, no matter how much I would like to. For those friendships that didn’t or don’t transition I bare them no ill will and I will always remember the good. Always.
For the new friendships, the friendships that I have made as the ‘new me’, I have different expectations too. I am quick to establish boundaries and am up front about what I can and can’t do, and how quickly that can change from day to day.
Many of my new friendships are with fellow sufferers (fighters) and quite often we meet online. This is a new reality that I am becoming very familiar with and as strange as it may sound, they have a very appealing quality to them. My online friends understand when they don’t hear from me for awhile. My online friends know how quickly life and health can change. I can share some details with my online friends without fear or judgement. But I also have no obligations to reveal anything and everything with them either. I don’t have to discuss my preferred treatments or my current medications. I have the right to share as much or as little as I wish, even if they do have a the same illness. Being in touch online is also not as physically demanding as it is face to face.
The limitations that online friendships have is that I can’t interact, console, hold, hug, laugh and listen as intently as I could if I was there in person. It is not always easy to make my emotions or intentions clear in a chat room as it is if I was there in person. This means that some things can be misread, misunderstood and, sadly, deeply hurtful if it is misinterpreted by the reader. It is very important then that I do my best to make my feelings and thoughts clear, especially if my friend is also sick and can be feeling vulnerable due to our illnesses.
I am deeply appreciative of the fact that support groups and many other social media outlets give me the chance to reach out to so many others, all over the world, however, I also have to remind myself that while we may share some similar illnesses, challenges and obstacles, we are still strangers and it takes time and experience to get to know someone on a deeper level.
I don’t assume that everyone who is sick is going to be a close friend of mine and I don’t assume we have similar personalities or beliefs or what it takes to forge a long and meaningful friendship. But I have a sense of appreciation for them and I am grateful for their time and the ability to still interact with the world. It is a luxury that I would not have had if it were not for my computer.
I have learned that even people with similar diagnosis and disabilities as me are not always destined to be my best friends but i do appreciate that they deserve some respect for being themselves.
I describe myself as a social hermit these days. I have learned to enjoy my own company AND I have also learned to enjoy those wonderful experiences and feelings that come when I connect with my friends (old and new) even via a chat room or a text message. It has to be enough for these current circumstances. And when I DO get the chance to meet face to face, those are the memories I will replay over and over whenever I am in a painful flare again.
Things change, people change, life goes on and no matter what lies ahead I am glad for the friendships that I make, grateful for those I leave behind, and blessed by the ones that have stayed the distance.