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5 Things That Helped Me More Than 'Thoughts and Prayers' After I Got Sick

As I’ve learned to navigate my new reality, I’ve grieved for the aspects of life that have changed and things I’ve lost. Like a lot of people with chronic illness, I’ve lost friends since I’ve become sick, and it’s been one of the toughest things to handle. Some people are only friends on the most superficial of levels — they’re great for fun times and they’ll hang out if it’s convenient for them, but the moment you’re a downer or they need to put any effort into maintaining a relationship, they’ll vanish. When I became ill, those were the people who offered “thoughts and prayers” and then completely ignored me, pretended my illness didn’t exist and never offered another word of support.

It’s a bitter pill to accept that some folks I once considered “friends” really don’t care what happens to me one way or the other. There are those who would look at this pragmatically or tell me it’s shown who my real friends are. All the same, a loss is a loss.

It’s an odd thing to consider. I don’t choose my friends based on what I want them to do for me; I am around them because I like them and enjoy their company. And I’m aware that everyone has their own struggles in life that take their time, attention and energy to varying degrees. Among the friends that remain, many have a lot to contend with in their lives. Some act as caregivers to elderly or ill parents; others are caring for their children, dealing with their own health or financial issues or holding down a job with long or erratic hours.

Sometimes, even if people truly wish they could help, they’re as overwhelmed as I am and they just can’t add anything else to their plate. Saying, “thinking of you” is all they can do, and I know that and appreciate their thoughts. They continue to keep in touch with me, and that’s what counts.

However, the friends who have taken a little extra time to really be there for me have made a true difference in my life. Here are five things they’ve done that have really helped much more than thoughts and prayers.

1. Being there when I really, really needed them

I recently spent the night in the emergency room. I was frightened, wasn’t sure what was wrong or how long I’d be there, and I posted about it to a filtered list on Facebook. Almost immediately, one of the friends who saw it texted me. She and my mom spent several hours on the phone with me to calm my nerves. Both checked in again the next day to ensure I was OK once I’d been discharged from the hospital. Another friend saw my message the next morning and asked about visiting hours. By that point I was on my way home, but it still meant something that they asked if they could come to the hospital. They understood that at that point, I really needed their support.

In another instance where I was really emotionally and physically hurting to the point of feeling completely hopeless and despondent, several friends got in touch and talked to me. Their reassurance and love held me up at a time when I was feeling incredibly low.

2. Providing rides

Nobody else is responsible for my transportation but me. However, when someone’s been willing to give me a lift, it’s made a world of difference. I don’t drive or have access to a vehicle, and while I’ve primarily taken mass transportation for my entire life, it’s become increasingly difficult and complicated. A public transit trip with several transfers is often enough to drain half my energy before I’ve even arrived at my destination. I’m so tired by the end of a doctor’s appointment or supermarket trip that I’m not necessarily able to stay alert and aware of my surroundings if I take the bus. There are many times I’ve run out of groceries simply because I couldn’t handle the bus ride to the store.

There have been friends who have kindly offered to pick me up and/or give me a ride home from events we’ve attended, and it’s helped immensely. When someone takes the time to ask me, “Hey, how are you getting home? Do you need a ride?” it’s awesome. In some cases, it’s made it possible to participate in events that would otherwise have been too hard to access.

3. Actually listening to what I say

When I’ve tried to talk about what I’m going through, there are people who have cut me off with, “I’m sorry to hear that! Feel better soon!” and changed the subject. There have been others who have immediately tried to offer unsolicited medical or spiritual advice. The friends who have actually asked questions, listened and let me discuss my life with them are the ones who have helped. We all need to talk about the pressing issues in our lives, and if we’ve got chronic illnesses that are taking a lot of our time and focus, that’s going to be our health.

4. Sending texts and emails

My BFF and I have a tradition of sending each other ridiculous text messages. Another friend sends me random photos of her cats. Sometimes these text messages come in right as I’m finishing up a medical appointment, or when I’m flaring and having a really bad day — and they immediately cheer me up. There have been other friends who have kept in touch via Facebook or email.

Any time someone takes a minute to check in with me and see how I’m doing, I appreciate it. I reach out as much as I can, but at this point I don’t have the energy to try to maintain friendships if the other person isn’t making an effort. The friends who have taken the time to stay in touch are the ones I’ve kept. That’s probably a good policy in all situations.

5. Sending fun things in the mail

Let’s say this loud and clear: I never expect anyone to send gifts to me. I don’t ask for them. I actually have trouble responding even when someone directly asks me what I want for my birthday or Christmas.

However, getting mail that isn’t ads, bills or correspondence from my insurance company can be a thrill. This is especially true since I spend most of my time at home and don’t really get out much. Some of my friends and family members have made a point of sending postcards from time to time, and it’s always cheered me up to receive them. A few people have taken the initiative to send care packages and again, while it’s certainly not expected at all, it’s really, really nice and it always makes me smile.

All of these gestures have two things in common: time and effort. In some cases that’s minimal — it takes maybe a minute or two to send a text message to ask someone how they’re doing, and for most people, it’s free on their mobile plans. Staying up at 3 a.m. to talk to a friend in the emergency room? That one’s a bit more strenuous. Is it worth it, to comfort a friend? Luckily for me, someone decided that it was.

We can’t force friends to spend their time and effort on us, and unfortunately, when we get sick some of them will invariably drift away because they can’t, or don’t want to, make that investment. As cliched as it is to say it, perhaps it makes us especially appreciate those who are in it for the long haul, if we’re lucky enough to have them.