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How My Friends Became Family When My Chronic Pain Began

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I have always said that no one can pick their friends. Yet, I somehow always seem to make friends in new or odd situations, as if we just gravitate towards each other.

This was true when I began my first year at university. It was then, three years ago, that I met my friends, alongside what would become my chronic pain.

I blamed the weather for my pain that year. Having been diagnosed with an essential tremor before my first year away from home kicked off, I wanted to be like all the other carefree freshmen. But the pain didn’t go away. Dull, at first, a slight wrist pain. “Maybe it’s because I’m typing all of my lecture notes,” I reasoned. After all, I had never really typed anything, let alone use a computer, before I had my tremor.

The pain spread. My lower back, my neck, fingers and hips all creaked and ached with morning pain and stiffness, migraines and light sensitivity plagued me on bad days. My hands turned blue when cold, my feet turned grey when tired, and the tremor got worse with the stress. A few months into classes, I gave in and went to the doctor. I was referred to an internal medicine doctor (who has since become one of my largest supporters in finding a diagnosis), who sent me for blood work.

After six months, 10 blood tests and a new diagnosis of Raynaud’s syndrome, we were no closer to any answers on the cause my pain.

It was at the next round of blood work that I passed out. The clinic wrapped up the blood draw and sent me to my dorm.

I collapsed on the couch of my university residence common room, crying, dizzy, weak, sore and alone. I woke up some while later to my friends sitting next to the couch. They had gotten my pillow and blanket from my room, a glass of juice for me on the coffee table and were on the floor watching a television show. After explaining what happened, we sat and chatted, and they assured me that everything would work out after one of these tests, though they were disappointed that the clinic simply sent me on my way home that afternoon.

Not knowing my friends that well, I thanked them for everything and called my family back home to give them an update.

While sympathetic, my family implored why I chose to put myself through more pain looking for answers. My family, though concerned, doubted the severity of this pain, chalking it up to the remainder of growing pains or hormones or a depression caused by moving away.

Baffled, I ended my call. I had never thought that my family would doubt me when it came to my health.

After that trying week, I only grew closer to my friends. Though they couldn’t understand my experience fully, there was always support when I needed it.

silhouette of friends sitting on a beach looking at the sunset over the ocean

My family at home loves me, most definitely, but their hostility to my conditions only pulled me back from actually talking to them about what was happening in my life. It was only through the knowledge that my family shared my private information among themselves (including what medications I was on) that made me realize that I could not keep betraying myself to those who did not believe me or the pain that I fought.

Since that incident, I have become more independent from my family, more supportive of my friends, and more assertive in my own life.

It has been during these past three years that I have come to rely on my friends. Not only as friends figuring out what “adulthood” is, or as university students, but as those I can trust with how I’m really doing and what’s going on with my health conditions (when I do feel ready to open up to them).

While we are reaching the end of our undergraduate careers, I am glad that my small group of close friends has been by my side, and I hope they can say that I have been there for them, too.

silhouette of friends and their bikes sitting on the beach watching a sunset over the ocean

This year, with a preliminary diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis, I have gotten an answer on my chronic pain. And while I fear going back to being “undiagnosed,” my friends (and internal medicine doctor) have assured me they will be there, no matter what diagnosis I get.

While I recognize that I am fortunate for the support of my friends and my doctors, the road ahead is long, and seems terrifying. I can only hope that my small group stays together through the trying years that lay ahead of us. Though I still maintain that no one can pick their friends, I believe it is certainly possible to choose who you trust, and in turn, to choose your family.

Originally published: March 14, 2018
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