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Forging Friendships and the Mixed Bag of Life With Chronic Illness

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To The Friends I Have Not Met … Yet,

Making friends is not an easy thing in my life right now, yet you are sorely needed. My life, current, past, and future, feels sometimes like a tornado of chaos – wrecking the best laid plans, seemingly scattering the things I’ve clung to hundreds of miles in opposite directions. Like waiting for a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon, I try to anticipate a sudden deluge or account for things as they come up. In the middle of this, I exist as so much more than my situations, my conditions and symptoms, my traumas. I am equally my likes and dislikes, my hopes and dreams, the 27- year-old self that is trying to find a place in a world that often seems to not know what to do with me.

Like most people my age, I think about having a family – though it will look different. I think about the future of my career – and hope I can work in it for a fulfilling length of time. I look for the fun and joyful in life – and the friends who will accompany me for those things. Unlike most people my age, I also have many complex and layered on factors to consider and situations to endure, which can often keep me from truly living.

There is an entire life balanced between seemingly opposed tensions. There are the doctors appointments and medical tests, the therapies and treatments, the procedures I would give almost anything to escape. There is also my obsession with coffee, my desire to try new foods, my interest in world-wide cultures. There are the symptoms, the dramatic pain and fatigue, the dread a new symptom brings as I wonder what else could be going on with my health. There is also my curiosity, my empathy, my hope to make things better for the next generation. There are the traumas both past and current, medical and interpersonal, the nightmares and panic attacks. There is also my resilience to push through past and present pain, my sarcasm and awkward sense of humor, my stories from growing up internationally.

There are so many considerations and questions about finding a space to even make friends. I am nervous you’ll reject me before we get much of a chance to know each other. Sometimes I am not even sure where to find people I can connect with. If we meet somewhere for coffee or a meal, how will I balance the inevitable moment when I’m in too much pain to sit much longer? If you don’t know much about my life, will you be shocked when I park in an accessible parking spot, and even more so if I pull out my walker? Will you think I’m being dramatic, or be too uncomfortable to ask me for more information? Will you wonder if things could really be “this complicated”? And when I cancel on a day we are supposed to get together, will that break our new friendship? If you want to go hiking and I tell you I cannot hike, if you want to go skiing and I cannot ski, if you want to go bar hopping and I can only have one drink without risking my health, will you write me off?

Truthfully this mixed bag is just that – a mixture. Sitting in this place of tense in-betweenness is brutally exhausting, but many times I feel grateful for the insight, empathy and understanding I’ve gained from my bad days. Ultimately though, life in this tense in-between place gives me one gift I am grateful for: an awareness that you too have your own mixtures and tensions. No, forming relationships and friendships and finding community often has its complications for everyone. Most likely you are fighting your own anxiety about rejection for reasons I may not even fathom. Maybe you are waiting in your own tense in-between and nervously considering what it will look like to have friendships and whether someone will deem you just too complicated. Hopefully the knowledge and experience and emotional maturity we have gained from these seemingly opposed experiences will give us both an understanding of the depth of life.

I hope, somehow, some way, I get to find out what your mixed bag looks like, too.

Getty image by sdominick

Originally published: January 24, 2022
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