My Illness Doesn't Make Me Unworthy of Love and Friendship
It was over two years ago when my symptoms worsened, I got hospitalized and my life changed drastically. As I still had two years of high school to go through and was used to being with my friends at school and during my free time activities, the biggest change was brought along with the fact that I had to stop going to school with the others. I got an individual program and was learning everything myself at home and only came to school every now and then to take the tests and exams.
I also abandoned my hobbies and doing music, and was bound to spent most of my time for the next two years, at home or at the hospital.
At that moment everything changed.
Naturally, a majority of my relationships were affected as well – and it wasn’t a positive influence that my illness had on my relationships. Actually, as I’m sitting here, I can’t think of a relationship that wouldn’t be affected by my chronic illness in some way. The moment I was hospitalized and then never really got back to school feels like an imaginary dividing line of my life and I can’t help but see myself very isolated from the world around me.
My relationships with everyone, including my family members and my own relationship with myself, started changing.
I live in a small town from which it took about an hour to get to school and I’ve never found friends here. All the friends I’ve ever had were from different cities or the town of my school and suddenly I felt myself being completely isolated.
My fault was, perhaps, that I naively expected for things to stay more or less the same, in particular the way people look at me.
But what happened instead was that most people started seeing me just as my illness. Whenever I came by to school I got weird looks from everyone who noticed I wasn’t there – and who knew just a little bit or nothing about the reasons, since I was not keen on sharing any intimate details which were difficult for even myself to grasp. I suddenly got people commenting on the changes in my appearance freely as if they were entitled to comment on my fluctuating weight every single time they saw me. It was as if they gained the right to tell me I look awful, or didn’t look sick at all, and judge whether I was actually ill.
I found that most people felt like the things they wouldn’t normally comment on were acceptable to talk about when they were talking to me as a chronically ill person.
I was losing so many things I loved and used to do, I was struggling to feel anything positive towards myself. I felt like hating myself for being ill, and in the middle of that I couldn’t get people to ask me about anything else than my illness. I understood that part of it was people being genuinely concerned and a part of it was the inevitable gossip among my classmates. Part of the struggle was the fact that everyone thought I was just overreacting, being dramatic and avoiding school on purpose.
I got so many people telling me that I am so lucky to be ill because I didn’t have to go to school. Yet, I was struggling with the physical pain I was being put through by my illness, and I was not doing well mentally. I felt isolated from everyone who used to be my friend and thought I wouldn’t be able to finish high school. And I really wanted nothing more than to just go back to school and be with everybody else, and go back to doing everything I used to enjoy.
Unfortunately, even some doctors shared the views of people around me. They kept telling me I was just too sensitive and everything would disappear if I just wasn’t thinking about it, wasn’t so dramatic, or simply didn’t want to avoid going to school so badly.
I tried to meet all the remarks that made me so uncomfortable with calmness and kindness. I felt that I had the best shot at making my friends understand what feels off about their remark and explain to them why something bothered me. I genuinely wanted to just talk about it so we could all understand where the other is coming from.
Yet nothing I did was right. If I was at home, I was just being “lazy” and “avoiding my responsibilities.” If I went somewhere, because I still wanted to have some fun and just live – even if I just went shopping with my mum – it was frowned upon, because then I mustn’t have been as sick as I was telling everyone. It was like finding myself in a trap and desperately just wanting to belong, even if I acted like it didn’t matter as much to me.
Immediately, I stopped being invited to any celebrations or events, I didn’t get texts or calls, nobody came to visit me and then I got scolded for not making enough effort to keep in touch.
All this has been affecting me for two years and I eventually understood that the isolation my chronic illness put me in due to the limitations it brings, is not something that I deserve or should just get used to. It used to trouble me a lot and for quite a long time as to how most friends disappeared from my life, how I saw they looked at me differently and how I didn’t do more to keep them in my life.
After all this time, finding new friends at university I am soon to start, I know I am not a worse person for being chronically ill, or for having certain symptoms and for being in pain. I am not a lesser or unworthy person, and I know who is really my friend.
Still, looking back, I wish I had the courage to stand up for myself and tell people around me what I thought. I wish I could tell them that I am still me, that I am not just my illness and there’s still so much more to me. I want to tell them that I don’t love them any less just because I can’t be around them as much, and that I wish to keep in contact with them.
I wish I had the courage to tell those who I wanted to keep in my life that my illness doesn’t make me unworthy of love and friendship. I am not to blame for my illness, and it’s not only my illness affecting the friendship – it’s also their view on it and on me as a chronically ill person.
And at last, I wish I had realized far earlier that those who do not wish to be in my life, because I am chronically ill and they felt it was too difficult for them, because it’s a burden for them, they’re uncomfortable talking about it, or are not interested in correcting their ableism and other reasons… they do not deserve to be my life are not worth all the sadness I felt for losing their friendship.
I find chronic illness a very lonely and isolated place for me, but I am not to blame for my illness. I am trying to be gentle with myself and not to blame myself for not having friends due to being ill. I am working on forgiving people who I feel have wronged me in this situation and am leaving all this in the past. Instead, I’m now looking forward to making friends who accept me for who I am.
I have had one friend stay with me through it all. She doesn’t flinch when I talk about my illness and she also talks to me about many different things. She still invites me to her birthday parties, and she picks me up when she wants to see me. In her eyes, I feel like I haven’t changed due to being chronically ill – and thanks to her friendship, I’ve realized that chronic illness doesn’t make me unworthy of genuine friendship and love… and for that I am forever grateful.
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