'Out of Sight, Out of Mind' Syndrome: How I'm Rekindling Friendships Lost to Illness

There is an old adage that goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” In our hustle-and-bustle society, this phrase is truer than ever. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or are an old hand at battling chronic illness, there is something we all have in common: loss of friends. Many of us get very upset and wonder how these people who were so important in our lives can just forget about us. Most likely, our friends aren’t horrible people; they are just busy and unfortunately, have fallen into what I call “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome.

I believe to be less socially isolated, it’s up to us to remind people we are still here and that we miss them. When I do this, I am always pretty surprised at the amount of people who will respond, and I sometimes hear the wonderful words “I’ve been thinking about you…”

So these are my tips on how to stay social. These tips won’t work on every single friend, but I’d bet the majority of your friends will be pleased to hear from you and make time for you.

1. Send a text. It’s an easy and quick way to say hi and it will probably open a dialogue of some kind.

2. Write an email. You can do this one on one or even use a template and send out personalized “form letters” using software like the mail merge options in Microsoft Word. Voila, a personalized letter to 20 people.

3. Post to them personally on social media. It only takes a moment and reminds them you are thinking of them. Consider following it up with IM.

4. Instant Messaging. (IM, or sometimes called Personal Messaging/PM). Some friends are really not phone-call people but express themselves beautifully in writing. Instant Messaging is perfect for these friends!

5. Let them know in advance that you’ll be nearby on a particular day. You may have an appointment or something you have to do. This way, they can be a rest stop on your busy day. You get to catch up and rest a little without planning an entire outing just to see them. Most people have time for coffee either out or at their home or even on their lunch break.

6. Make a video call from the comfort of your own bed. Put on some makeup if you wish or a hat to cover your bad hair day, maybe some flattering lighting, and call away. You may need to set up a time to do this with your friend. So organize it. Look forward to it.

7. Make a phone call! Often, with the use of cell phones, we ring someone and find they aren’t in a convenient place/time to talk. So text them to say hi and then ask if there is a good time to call them later – like after the kids are in bed. You’ll be amazed at how much better you may feel after a chat to your friend.

8. Invite them over. Just because going out is difficult, doesn’t mean you can’t have visitors! It might be for a cuppa, an afternoon, or (depending on their commitments) an overnight stay. Even though I am in my 30s, I often invite my friends over for a pajama party. Those with kids might be able to get a sitter and enjoy some “me time.” It evens out the playing field, you don’t have to get dressed, and it’s fun. Get them to bring some movies/use Netflix and order in some takeaway. (Hint: use a prepared meal for yourself if you have dietary restrictions!)

9. Organize a time to go to them. This can be great if they are unable to get away from their family commitments. It doesn’t have to be a long time. Don’t be shy; put your jammies, meds, extra socks, favorite pillow and blankie in your car. Or ask for those types of items to be made available to you when you arrive. Most people just want you to be comfortable and will probably even help you get the above list out of your car for you! Speak up. If something is causing you pain, bring it up. They can’t read your mind and would hate to think you spent three days in bed because you were too shy to ask them to turn off the air-con. (Hint: asking them not to wear perfume while you visit may help those with chemical sensitivity.)

10. Write a letter and send it snail mail. (Even use the mail merge tip and just print it out.) Everyone loves something in their mail box that isn’t a bill. Write a letter, by hand or otherwise, and actually get someone to send it. Try it on a few friends, especially ones who are great at IMing. Ask them to write back, no matter how long it takes them to get it in the mail. Let them know you don’t expect an epic response — that a scribbled hi on the back of their shopping list would be great.

As with all of these things, it takes a bit of practice. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work right away; these things take a bit of commitment. The most important part is being persistent. Just keep at it!

When it comes to seeing people face to face, I recommend making a pact about canceling. Just as you may often have to cancel, sometimes so will they. If this is the case, it’s not a slight against you. Life can be unforgiving. So make a pact that neither of you will take it personally or feel guilty if you’re the one who has to cancel. Oh, and one more thing. Persistence means rescheduling. Sometimes again and again and again. But it may be worth it.

Once you’ve started putting these practices in place, you may be happy to find you have some social time coming up. The panic might set in. Breathe. Remind yourself of how you feel when you don’t get to see people. You can do this! Send them a copy/link of the Spoon Theory by Christina Miserandino and ask them to read it before you arrive. Then you won’t find yourself mumbling through it with brain fog trying to remember it and they have an “in” to your lingo. This is also a good time to mention the perfume or air-con (insert your own unique problem here) problem. Knowledge is power, so arm them with information that is relevant to you.

Finally, two more tips for when you are with your friends:

1. Try to give a “highs and lows” account of your illness since you last saw them. It’s going to be tempting to give them a “blow by blow” account of each ache and pain, of how well/badly each appointment has gone. But, let’s face it, there are only so many ways to say, “I am in horrible pain.” Tell them how you are today and the highlight and lowlight of your illness lately. After that, maybe you should ask how things are going with them.

2. These days, we often listen only to reply or worse, interrupt. It’s a terrible habit and means we really aren’t listening at all. Practice active listening; close your mouth and really open up your ears. The more you do this, the more people will seek you out, both in hard times and calm times.

That’s it. Everything I’ve learned about “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. So go ahead, put some or all of these into practice and you may be happily surprised at all the people you are back in touch with.

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Thinkstock photo by allyanora

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