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To the Friends Who Left After I Became Ill

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To the people who left me,

When illness takes your life away, it’s easy to forget that it’s not solely responsible for every single thing you’ve lost. It becomes easy to lay blame at illness’ door whenever a new negative experience clouds our progress. Despite how systematically it has dismantled my life – and my prospects – its reach hasn’t grown so long that I can affect anyone but me. People are responsible for how they act. Much as I take responsibility for my own conduct, so should you. It would be simple to use my illness as an explanation for the people who have abandoned me, or who have used my condition to their advantage. But it’s got nothing to do with my illness, that’s on you.

How other people react to what I’m feeling says nothing about me, but a hell of a lot about them. That even my closest friends didn’t care when I became seriously ill and had to leave my home in Cambridge; that they put the onus on me – a broken, exhausted and challenged man – to maintain relationships and make visits if I wanted human company; that they heard nothing I told them about I felt; that they cheated me, let me down and abandoned me; that these people I trusted walked away and left me to the chaos of my illness, it speaks only of their failings.

You didn’t get away with it. I haven’t forgotten that you didn’t care, nor will I. Ignorance isn’t an excuse, being busy isn’t an excuse – there are no excuses. It’s not bitterness that drives me to write this, rather it’s a sign of the magnitude of what you did and of what you continue to do. You did it because you didn’t understand: My sickness didn’t have a reputation; I didn’t have something you could comprehend immediately. The kicker: you didn’t want to understand.

In turning up occasionally for a two-minute chat, you’re not erasing the stream of messages left behind it from when I needed you most. In turning to me when things get tough for you, you’re not maintaining our relationship but demonstrating how little it means to you. In sending me a message on my birthday because Facebook told you to, you’re just sending a reminder that you’ve been silent the rest of the year. You can pretend I’m the one who disappeared, but you can’t make believe that you haven’t betrayed my trust.

I’ve lost my life to illness, but I haven’t changed. It has tried to make me into a bitter and callous person, but it’s failed. What it never tried to do – what I never could do – was turn others into the same. You did that yourself.

Signed, G.

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Originally published: October 22, 2017
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