I really appreciate the people who took the time to read what I wrote about chronic illness & friendships and share their thoughts and feelings with me. I’ve learned so much from these conversations. In addition to reassuring me that I have still have friends who love me, our conversations have also helped me to figure out my feelings with a little more clarity, as well as proactive steps to minimize the isolation that seems to be a too common side effect of chronic illness.
I know it’s not unusual for friends to grow apart throughout our lives as we change, and that the last 6-7 years have been a time of growth and change beyond/in addition to illness. But there’s also something that’s particular to the ways friendships/relationships change and fade with chronic illness. After writing the above emotional/feelingsy thing, I spent a lot of time reading other people’s stories, their experiences with illnesses and friend loss. If you google “chronic illness friendships”, you’ll find that people of all age groups with any chronic illness involving low “spoons” go through something similar (“friendship fallout”). I don’t think it’s helpful to minimize this. I think it’s important to validate sick peoples experiences and feelings about this process. It’s part of what reshapes our world and how we exist within it. Our relationships are important. How they change is important. What we feel when we are figuring out these changes and how to exist now in a world that is simultaneously the same yet entirely different, is important. Our experiences of loss and grief are important, and they deserve validation.
I think, in addition to the fact that sick people often become flakey and cranky, and full of difficult emotions that put demands on their(our) support networks, friend loss also occurs partly because so many friendships just kind of happen and evolve through repeated interaction without needing much conscious effort. You see each other, you remember that person exists and that you’re glad they’re in your life, you make more plans. The repeated interaction part is what seems to stop when people get sick and stay sick and fade from previous important facets of their (our) lives, unless there’s a conscious, deliberate, and mutual effort. There’s no longer room to leave things to chance encounters and spontaneity. So I need to be better at reaching out, and I need to know which of the peoples are willing to reach back and take turns supporting each other.
From what I’ve read of other peoples’ experiences, it also seems that sick people deliberately end or fade from friendships when there are chronic illness/ableist microaggressions (e.g. ‘You don’t look sick’, ‘you’re not that sick’, ‘I wish I could spend all day in my pyjamas’, ‘are you playing the illness/mental health “card” to get out of x obligation again?’ ‘you never want to do fun [spoon intensive] things anymore’). There aren’t enough spoons for sustaining relationships with people who haven’t unpacked/aren’t trying to unpack chronic illness/ableist microaggressions.
I’m using so many spoons to prioritize these difficult conversations because I care. So much. I want clarity around this process, and I want to skip over some of the ambiguity and wondering. I want to know which of the peoples want to find ways to have friendships with the me I am now (as opposed to the me that past me might otherwise have logically evolved into), and I want to know when it’s time to let go of people who don’t want to actively prioritize friendships that are no longer easy or convenient or full of spontaneity and [spoon intensive] adventures.
I’m going to brainstorm ways to stay connected while low on spoons, and I’m going to be better about reaching out, sharing what I’m feeling, and showing the people I love that they are important to me. I think this post might also help us find ways to be consistent with maintaining friendships now that it requires conscious effort. Maybe simple things like messaging each other hearts every now and again would be enough for now. It’s easy to feel like the world has forgotten us when we get sick, and tiny reminders that we aren’t forgotten are sometimes all we need.
p.s. I also have a spoonie themed tumblr page that I use more than this blog—if you want more insights on coping, spoonie memes or cat photos, you can find me at: http://catladycolitiscoping.tumblr.com/