When Your Chronic Illness Affects Your Friendships

To those who are chronically ill, many of you know how it is. You know how it can play out and you most likely know how it feels when chronic illness swoops into your life, unwanted and uninvited like a hurricane full of dread causing you to drown in its darkness. You know that there are often a host of complications when chronic illness invades your life and one of the elements that turns complicated is friendship.

When it comes to the rocky, roller coaster ride when friendship meets the challenges of chronic illness, initially your may friends stay. They are with you, hand in hand and side by side. Some guide you, some support you and some help you with each and every step of your journey. They can be your saviors, your inspiration and your hope throughout these often deep, dark and desperate times.

As time goes by when you remain in a state of sickness, still poorly and no longer the healthy person you used to be, your friends’ patience can wear thin and their wishful thinking for life to resume its expected course may gradually begin to fade away. Some friends start to question: “How long can I wait? How long will it take? When will my sick friend recover or improve at the very least?”

“When?” Is the question on everyone’s lips. They wait as they watch and they wonder as they begin to understand what a friendship with their once healthy, but now sick, friend truly means.

This is when the good old term “chronic” comes in to play – the healthy friends learn that this isn’t a blip, it isn’t a bump in the road, it isn’t a one off. It’s chronic, it’s long-term and it may well be a lifelong thing because the prognosis of chronic illness is often unknown. Being friends with a sick person is sometimes tough; trust me, I get it. I know is isn’t always easy. The cancelled meet-ups, the unanswered phone calls, the missing out on special occasions (too poorly to meet, too poorly to talk) and the perceived lack of effort on the ill person’s behalf are just a few of our many downfalls to say the least.

At some point there comes a time in the friendship when a decision is made – do I leave or do I stay?

Whether it’s at a subconscious level or a conscious decision, the truth is that the some of them choose to leave and then they are gone with the blink of an eye. It’s sad and it’s often brutal, but it’s the truth of what can happen when friendship and chronic illness collide.

To the friends who chose to leave me: I just want to say thank you. Thank you for staying as long as you did, I know it was tough for you too. Also, thank you for allowing me to realize who my truest, my greatest and most dependable friends have turned out to be. I guess I’m trying to say, this cruel twist of fate has allowed me to realize how strong I am and that I couldn’t have done it without you; initially with your support and subsequently with the heartache and the heartbreak.

Now onto the ones who have had blind faith in the friendship, persevered throughout my journey, the ones who have chosen to stay: Tears fall from my eyes as I write this, tears of happiness, tears of gratitude and tears of love for those who chose to stay. You are still here, fighting with me, no matter how long between our reunions or catch-ups (which usually depends on and is based around my ill health). I know my body is different to yours. I know that my body is different from that of your other healthy friends, I know that my body has certain limitations which means that our friendship is different. But you are my friends. You are here for both the good times and the bad – like a marriage for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. What matters the most is that you are still here and you are still with me, hand in hand and side by side so for that, I thank you, I love you and I’m living life on cloud nine that you made the decision to stay, you are still sharing my journey and you continue to be my lifeline.

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