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When Hanging Out With Healthy Friends Causes Grief to Strike


I met for coffee with some of my “healthy” friends a few days ago. It was the first time in a couple of weeks I was out of the house for social reasons. With the exception of medical appointments or small essential errands, I had taken refuge in my home as I rode out a pretty tough reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) flare. Having spent the last several days on the couch wedged between my St. Bernard and Boxador, it felt good to finally get out.

As I sat with my friends, I sipped espresso while they chatted about work, their kids, upcoming holiday parties and their summer vacations. While they vented about the snobby mom in the school pick-up line or the office jerk, a familiar, yet unpleasant feeling washed over me.

Despite being surrounded by my friends, I felt more alone and isolated than ever. And in that moment, listening to their stories, all the loss and feelings of being left out of life in general hit me like a ton of bricks.

The painful ache of wishing I was able to experience more in life had set in.

Cloaked in an invisible layer of sadness I smiled and reported that nothing was new with me as my turn came around to share with the group.

Sure, there were things new with me, but nothing that could compare to the stories of fun trips to Mexico, starting grad school or getting a job promotion. In my world of chronic illness and pain, things are much simpler and less exciting.

I said my good-byes early and held it together long enough to make it back to my car parked around the corner. 13 years of living with chronic illness, and here I found myself in the throes of grief yet again.

Some who aren’t sick may wonder how a simple gathering with friends could be upsetting, but it’s precisely those moments, the seemingly normal parts of life, that often elucidate the loss so well.

Over the years I’ve learned to cope with and accept the disappointments and feelings of being left out that accompany chronic illness and pain. I’ve been able to cultivate support and stay connected in new ways, but it doesn’t mean there still aren’t those extremely difficult times too.

I think many of us who have lived with chronic illness for a long time often feel bad about ourselves when these intense feelings of grief reemerge, which only makes us feel worse. Friends and family may even question why we can’t just “get over it.” The truth is, chronic illness and pain impact every aspect of our lives. It’s a part of our narrative, as is the loss and the things we are unable to participate in.

What I finally realized the other day as I sat in my car upset, is that those of us living with health challenges are on a very difficult lifelong journey, and it’s OK to feel this way. Grief happens – but so does happiness.

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Thinkstock photo via nd3000.