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10 Ways Chronic Illness Makes You Feel Like a 'Bad Friend'

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Do you ever feel like you’re unable to keep up with your friendships? You might forget birthdays or be unable to commit to future plans. You might need help in your life, but are unable to repay that favor. Whether it’s because you live with chronic pain, constant fatigue or any other symptom, illness can put you on the sidelines for quite awhile sometimes. So while you might want to maintain your friendships, maybe you feel like you just can’t.

Whatever you need to manage your chronic illness is totally OK. Not being able to treat your friendships in the exact way you want to doesn’t necessarily make you a “bad friend.” But if you do feel like a “bad friend” due to your chronic illness, it can be helpful and comforting to hear from other people who are in your same position. That’s why we asked our chronic illness community what they had to say about their friendships.

Please know if you are ever feeling too overwhelmed and are concerned about your friendships, reach out to someone you trust and express to them how you’re feeling.

Here’s what our community had to say:

Chronic illness can make you feel like a bad friend because…

1. You choose to spend time taking care of yourself.

“When I feel good, my first thought isn’t always to go hang out with my friends. My first thought is to take a shower, go buy groceries, catch up on school work and just sit down and feel how good I feel. Sometimes people don’t understand that on a ‘good day,’ it doesn’t mean I’m getting better. It just means that I’m at a higher point of my condition. I don’t mean to be rude, but being sick for months on end causes you to see the best in even the mediocre days.” – Kayla U.

“So often I choose not to call back or make plans during free moments. Instead, I relax and lay down. Thankfully, most of my friends appear to understand. But, still. I feel like everything that makes a person a good friend is hard to be when you’re also chronically ill.” – Amber J.

“On my own time, [I’m] following through on obligations, time, space and energy willing. I have to turn down social engagements when I’m feeling like my presence there wouldn’t contribute much. Getting told I’m just making up excuses, etc.” – Brian L.

2. You don’t want them to stop by without notice.

“I just want my friends to get out of my house when they drop-in out of the blue and I feel like crap. I make tea and coffee for them when I just want to go and lie down in my bed under my warm duvet. And I feel worse for the state of my house because I cannot keep it straight as I am tired all the time.” – Agnès G.

3. You’ve missed major events.

“I’ve missed so many important things. I feel like I’ve missed everyone’s milestones and am not someone they can depend on anymore. It’s out of my control, but it’s not out of my heart.” – Krista I.

“I forgot my best friend’s son’s birthday. We’ve been friends since we were 9; we were pregnant together. And I forgot because I was too busy being ill from not being allowed to take any painkillers for my migraine/tension headaches. I’m so busy surviving this shit, I forget there is a world out there with friends who would like to hear from me.” – Willemijn K.

4. You ask for help.

“The guilt of complaining and needing help. I felt like a bad person when I grabbed onto my friend’s arm today when I got dizzy. It’s a daily battle between taking care of myself and others.” – @griffincharlie

“I always have new health issues to talk about. There is constantly something wrong. And with my family not living close by, I am just so overwhelmed sometimes and I have to rely on my friends for help and support.” – @a20175814

5. You’re quick to anger.

“Because I feel like my friends don’t care about me, I get mad and [think they] don’t want to talk to me, which is not true. I know deep inside they worry, but I don’t talk to them to know.” – Cinthia D.

6. You never know how you’ll feel so you can’t make plans.

“I can never give a firm ‘Yes’ to invitations/plans. I really want to go do things and spend time with people, but my health is so very unreliable. I could be full of energy one day and completely exhausted to the point of being unable to even care for myself the next. It’s really heartbreaking because eventually people stop extending the invitation at all. I feel like I’ve let everyone down and they forget about me all together in favor of ‘more reliable’ friends.” – Anita C.

“I can’t commit to anything! I never know how I’ll feel from day to day and so I can’t guarantee that I’ll be having a good day when [something] is scheduled. Also, I am exhausted and get daily headaches so talking on the phone most evenings are out of the question. I can’t socialize the ‘normal’ way, so I’m no fun.” – Kat T.

7. You can’t always talk.

“There are times when I am so drained and sick that I don’t feel up to talking on the phone, particularly when I have an infection, which can last for weeks or months, and I feel really cruddy. Healthy people just don’t understand and I’ve lost friends because of it. I know in my heart of hearts that these people weren’t true friends, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.” – Mary-Jane M.

8. You have to prepare them for emergencies.

“If I’m going to be spending the nights at a friend’s home, I usually teach them how to use my diabetic items so that if I start acting weird, they know how to check my levels and relay it to a 911 operator. No friend should need to know how to keep their friend alive like that and I try to teach as few people as possible, but I never know and I’d hate to leave them feeling helpless. I always feel so mixed. It feels like such a burden on them though.” – Jerica W.

9. It’s difficult to express your feelings.

“I care a lot in silence, but I can’t express it. I just don’t have that enough energy. So, I look like [an] emotionally unavailable friend.” – Ila K.

“Every day I end up feeling guilty for not responding to calls or texts. What they don’t realize is that I’m not avoiding them; I’m avoiding my own emotions.” – @chrissywayne

10. You can’t be there for them.

“While my best (and only friend these days, aside from my significant other) never makes me feel bad about being sick, she’s always doing thoughtful things or checking up on me. And when she’s having a rough time, I’d love to be able to do the same. But since I can’t drive and am often bedridden, it can be really difficult. The best I can do is a phone call, or a text many days. It’s especially rough because both she and the SO work so hard, juggle so many things, and get so stressed, meanwhile I struggle to get out of bed pretty often. It can be hard not to feel like a useless lump in comparison. Particularly when I want to do something to help take a little pressure off of them.” – Kaede H.

“I’m not the friend I used to be. I could drop everything to help someone and now, I physically can’t.” – Laura B.

Friendships are complicated. That’s especially true if you live with chronic illness. It can be difficult to keep up with the people in your life when you’re constantly going to doctor’s appointments or feel too sick to spend a ton of time doing anything. It’s OK to put yourself first, but sometimes you may still feel bad about it. And if you ever feel like you’re being a “bad friend,” talk to someone you trust.

To learn more about friendships and chronic illness, check out these stories from our community:

Originally published: November 1, 2019
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