I’ve just received an email asking how to cope with losing friends and other acquaintances when you are ill, and I wanted to share my thoughts on this.
This definitely happened to me, and it was a very distressing part of my illness. It’s even more distressing when you’re 18, your friends are your life, and you’ve just left home to start university only to find yourself at home again having to be cared for. My friends were all living their lives, and here I was having to be looked after by others. I felt so ashamed and like a total failure. Honestly, I felt like it was me — I was the problem. It must’ve been me, right?
I had to come home after my first term of university at Christmas. Christmas in the UK is typically a time for freshmen to come back to their hometowns and meet up with everyone for drinks and compare courses, accommodation, and the nightlife. The snow was falling, and I was petrified and lifeless in bed. I could practically hear my old classmates clinking glasses and boasting about their new lives.
But there was also another part of me that could hear them saying, “So, did you hear about Katie? She dropped out, didn’t she? Straight A student as well — it must be so embarrassing for her.” These conversations never happened, but in my mind, they were very real. If you add on top of that the stigma surrounding people with chronic fatigue syndrome, you can imagine my mind was on overdrive and I felt so lonely and isolated.
After feeling upset and angry for months, in a moment of clarity between bouts of brain fog, I realized that it really wasn’t their fault. My close friends had tried to understand what was going on, time and time again. They’d even asked if they could come and visit me, but I was so weak (and also so piercingly ashamed of myself and my situation) that I said no.
It suddenly struck me that there was no way they could understand what was happening to me. Even I didn’t know what the hell was happening.
If even you don’t understand your illness, how can you expect others to do the same?
As soon as I thought about this, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I also felt less angry and more compassionate. This doesn’t mean I liked the fact that my friends were drifting away from me, but I accepted it for what it was. There was no way they could understand how my life was going to have to change as a result of this illness, and this was the first true moment of clarity I had in this whole, sorry mess. Up until that moment, I hadn’t thought about it either.
You cannot control the way people view you and what people think about you. You cannot control their feelings or confusion towards what is happening or what has happened to you. What you do have control over is how you react to it and how you feel about it. You can accept it or keep fighting, and I’ll fly the flag for acceptance any day of the week.
Friends and people may drift in and out of your life, but that doesn’t mean you are devoid of friends forever. New people will come into your life when you least expect it, and they’ll be exactly what you need. They may bestow life lessons upon you and then drift away, leaving room for new angels to meander in.
Don’t miss out on these experiences by clutching too much to how things were or how things could have been. Loosen your grip with love and let the love find you.
A version of this post first appeared on Conquering Fear Spiritually.
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