What It Takes to Befriend Someone With a Chronic Illness
I’ve been out of the game since February. I’ve been a hermit, trying to do my best every day. And in seven months, my circle of friends has shrunken more than you can imagine. And for the first time in seven months, a friend came to visit. A friend knew it was a rough day, and instead of changing plans or canceling, she picked up lunch and came to me. It was like winning the lottery! I found a four leaf clover! I finally discovered who, in fact, let the dogs out!
After two hospital visits in February, both lasting almost a week each, it was decided that stepping down at work was the best choice for my health. I had just fought off a large infection and Crohn’s disease was rearing its ugly head yet again. I failed another medication and my day-to-day life began to circle around the bathroom and my bed. The pain and nausea were uncontrollable and built the prison bars that trapped me at home.
For a while, my phone stayed as busy as always. Family continued to check in, friends still took time to drop a line. But as my luck would have it, my illness got worse. I was too ill to do my hair, let alone get out of the house. I would make plans and have to reschedule. I would read a text, but in a brain fog haze, forget to respond for hours or even days. I rarely left the house, virtually becoming the invisible woman. And as the old saying goes “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Then slowly, the phone stopped ringing. The “Don’t worry hun, we’ll find time” or “Take time to rest, we’ll still be around” were replaced with the chirping of crickets. I started to wonder if I fell off the face of the earth, or if I was the sole survivor of some nuclear holocaust. I became moody and the depression I was refusing to acknowledge overtook my entire life. My poor family… I was hell to be around. Where were all of the people who used to enjoy my company? They were right beside me enjoying the good times. Now, if it weren’t for the occasional Facebook comment or “like,” I would second-guess their existence.
Now, now, now… not everyone can be grouped into this generalization. I have a few tried-and-true friends who make the extra effort. They continue to try to make plans when I just can’t make it. They reassure me that they are there when I’m scared they’ll disappear. Their names are always at the top of my recent calls or messages lists.
This summer, I have thankfully added to my circle of true friends. I have met a family that I adore. They are everything someone could ask for. Fun, laid back, supportive, comforting, they’ve become extended family. After a rough day of medical mishaps, they welcomed me into their home, no questions asked, and after a hug and a quick teary-eyed run-down of what happened, helped me forget about my worries. They’ve fed my family, welcomed us with open arms, and helped in any way they can. They don’t turn away when I’m having a bad day and they don’t call it a night when pain or nausea creep up. They do what very few have: They ask what they can do to help.
And their kids? Amazing. Remember way at the beginning of this whole shebang when I mentioned that someone brought me lunch? That was their daughter. A young woman had the maturity and compassion to find out what I could tolerate, bring me lunch, and chat. She did something many of my friends had never done, many of them double or even triple their age. She knew it was a painful day, and knew some company could be just what the doctor ordered. I cannot find the words to even describe what I felt: loved, cared for, human. I felt human. I wasn’t a porcelain doll, too fragile to be handled. My pain didn’t make me someone to be avoided. I was just a girl having lunch with a friend.
As an introverted bookworm, it’s hard to make friends. Add a chronic illness to that list, and it’s been damn near impossible. Befriending someone with a chronic illness takes extra effort. It requires a higher level of understanding, compassion, strength, and diligence. It’s a lot of last-minute changes and hanging out in your pajamas. Some people just aren’t cut out for that kind of friendship. They are there for the nights out. But the minute “hanging out” revolves around a hospital or home one too many times, the offers to hang out stop coming. Texts go unanswered. The only connection lies in the form of Facebook likes or comments. I have many “friends” I only see through a screen. My texts go unanswered, attempts to make plans go unmade.
But not all hope is lost. People willing to stick through this wild ride with you are hard to find, but they do exist. I’ve been lucky enough to find a few that are right by my side. I am not a “Crohn’s friend.” I am a strong, supportive, funny, sarcastic, creative, caring, eccentric friend who just so happens to have Crohn’s. It may make me a bit unreliable. I may need a special menu or easy access to a restroom, but all of these extra quirks make me an even greater friend. And I deserve the same in return.