If you have a chronic or invisible illness like me, you know that it has affected your entire life. One of the things that I have noticed is how maintaining (and often losing) friendships differ. We make friends differently, keep friends differently, and lose friends differently. We still want to be loved and appreciated just like anyone else, but it is often very difficult.
Over the years, I have noticed that my friends or people I interact with play certain roles. They act in similar ways and often perform similar tasks. This is in no way a critique or a shaming of these people. “Friend” is a term that here means at the very minimum, “Person you interact with,” or could mean, “Best friend I spend an infinite amount of time with.” Perhaps you will notice you have one or more of these friends.
Friend #1: The Optimist.
This friend always sees the silver lining. They woke up early in the morning, got the worm, and made the bird a healthy breakfast to make up for it. They tell you about the power of smiling and, “It gets better.” They do not offer actual advice, but instead snippets of those cute, yet annoying, quotes you see on clothes at Forever 21. They mean no harm, but they do not really help. These people truly do not mean to be as annoying as they are but unfortunately, that doesn’t make them less annoying.
Pros: Lifts you up, even if just a little.
Cons: Can come off as a broken record.
Friend #2: The, “I don’t know what to tell you.”
This friend is the one that will text you, “What’s up?” out of nowhere when they are bored. They don’t give you much to go off of and it’s hard to keep a conversation moving with them. In order to keep the conversation going, you divulge something personal. You aren’t necessarily asking for their advice, just confiding in them, and they say something like, “Oh,” or, “Well, OK.” Frankly, I have seen better comebacks from a Snapple cap.
Cons: Just really, really obnoxious.
Friend #3: The Panicked Penguin.
If there’s something to worry about, they will. Whether it’s getting a blood test, being on a new medication or even getting a paper cut, this person will panic. For you. And 10,000 times the rate that is necessary. I’m not sure why they panic. Did they watch a particularly dramatic movie about your illness? Read a book about it? Or are they just like this with all of their friends? How do they sleep at night? We just don’t know.
Pros: Makes you feel important and loved.
Cons: Gets old. Real fast.
Friend #4: The Overbearing Angel.
If you need anything, this person is there, but sometimes it is to an extreme. They will pick you up if your car breaks down, make food for you, even…open your mail for you? What’s up with that? You know they care, but it would be nice for them to ask if you need help instead of just doing everything for you.
Pros: Sometimes it’s nice to be treated like the royalty you are.
Cons: …Other times, you just want to open your own damn mail.
Friend #5: The Twin.
This friend has a similar or the exact same illness as you, although no two individuals with an illness are exactly alike. They may ask you for advice or you may ask them. You might butt heads sometimes, but you always end up talking it out. You trust each other. You lean on each other. You are in this together. Hooray!
Cons: You’re both still sick.
Friend #6: The Yogi.
You can find this person at a Whole Foods, yoga studio, or…in your face, telling you how to fix your illness. They recommend miracle cures, different diets, power poses, positive self-talk, and all sorts of nonsense. It’s quite horrifying. You can usually tune them out and you pray their comments are in jest, but you wonder if you should speak up so other chronically ill people aren’t subject to the spewing of their choice fake health fad. You decide most of the time it is best to keep your mouth shut. However, their attitude is blaming the victim for their illness, “But how can you be sick? Buzzfeed said there’s one weird trick to cure multiple sclerosis, didn’t you try it?”
– crickets –
Pros: Literally nothing.
Cons: Literally everything. And quinoa is disgusting. There, I said it.
Friend #7: The Denier.
I don’t know if they believe we faked the moon landing, but they are skeptical of illnesses and injuries that they cannot see. They instruct mindfulness and, “Not letting things get the best of you.” Yes, let me just erase my years of trauma. I think there’s a button for that in my brain.
– beep boop beep beep boop –
All better! Wow, what a day! What shall I do now?
Pros: Helps you raise your blood pressure from anger.
Cons: Wait, that’s not a pro.
Friend #8: The Chameleon.
This person really does not know how to deal with your illness, so they take many different approaches. One day they are very supportive and open to conversation and the next, they quiver merely moving your book about suicide to get to the television remote. This people are hard to deal with because they can be very encouraging, but they can also be very draining. One never knows how quickly they will change or how they will react when you are in crisis.
Pros: Encourages you to learn about different types of people and situations.
Cons: Hard to keep up with.
Friend #9: The Ghost.
When you’re well, they are there, they are more than there. They might even be one of your best friends. When you are well, you go to the mall together, get your nails done, and go on road trips together. What fun! But when you are sick…They disappear. They don’t want to talk about how you haven’t been able to keep down solid food for days. Or how you’ve been to more doctors in one month than they have been in their entire life. Or how your pee looks funny. (Ok, never mind, no one wants to hear about that.) It’s kind of a bummer, really, they were such a nice friend.
Pros: Helps you realize sometimes you have to stand on your own two feet.
Cons: …But boy do your feet get tired.
Friend #10: The Fan
This person might not know much about you or your story, but they have offered you encouragement. Perhaps they have talked to you about something you have written or something you said. Perhaps they said, “You’re such an inspiration!” or, “I really relate.” Maybe they even shared similar issues, but they have not been able to come out publicly with them yet. Although they may not really be your friend, it sure was nice for them to reach out. Kudos!
Pros: Ego boost!
Cons: …There aren’t enough of them.
A friend could be a combination of these or fit none of these archetypes. Your mileage may vary. I encourage you to reach out and comment about the “chronic illness friends” you have encountered in your life.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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