The Mighty Logo

Losing People Because of Illness Hurts, but We Have to Let Them Go

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Losing your close circle on top of everything else going on is really tough. People are usually encouraging and supportive at first, but after a few months of serious ill health, the gradual exodus begins.

People with health issues, especially if unable to work, often aren’t respected in our society. Your social value tends to decrease and you may feel like you’ve become, well, kind of an embarrassment. A person with an illness that modern science barely understands, let alone knows how to treat, is also confronting for some to deal with. It makes them uncomfortable, so they will try and rationalize it. The inevitable not-being-positive-enough, just depressed and hypochondriac talk gets thrown around.


Sometimes it’s the change in dynamics that can shift things, e.g. party friends, relationships where you played therapist or rescuer, or people that are hooked on drama and gossip. You simply no longer have the energy for this, so they find others to meet that need.

The disappearance of close friends hurts. But nothing hits below the belt quite like when a partner dumps you or cheats because you got “sick and boring.” When faced with hardship, a partner’s attitude makes a tremendous difference – whether it be we are in this together and we can beat this, or this is your problem and I don’t want to deal with it. It is a choice. The fact is if someone bails, then they are simply not long-term relationship material. This happened to me twice and at the time was heartbreaking, but in hindsight both relationships were one-sided in many ways.

It’s hard not to take personally. Being angry with your sick body or holding onto hurt or anger at someone has a huge energy cost – physical and emotional – as I learned the hard way. It will impede healing. Likewise, fighting for someone who doesn’t really want to be there is a waste of energy. It took a few years and a few people for me to really get this lesson.

I found mentally reframing it as a ruthless quality control process helped. Extreme events have a way of stripping off people’s social masks and showing who they really are.

I’ve had a few people do an about face and come back with apologies. Either they or a relative developed an invisible illness. Plunged into that world themselves, suddenly they understood.

Some of the fake people returned too. Having been through two severe crash and recovery cycles, I found a few drifted back once I returned to part-time work and a modest social life. Suddenly I was worth being friends with or dating again, and they expected to be welcomed back. In the meantime, the space they left had been filled by other, better people. I may have lost the flashy rent-a-crowd, but I have found more genuine connections.

It’s about taking back your power, and not letting yourself feel like the victim left behind. If someone chooses to leave your life because of a health issue beyond your control, that is on them, and their loss. It frees up energy for healing…. and for the good crew that does stick around.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Poike.

Originally published: July 11, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home