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Why I Want My Friends to Remind Me That I'm Sick

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There are two sides to this story.

Originally, I was going to write an article titled “Sometimes I forget I’m sick — and I wish I didn’t.”

I was driving home in the midst of possibly the worst backfire of this “forgetting.” I knew I could do so safely, but I also knew the prospect of climbing three flights of stairs to my apartment and then still having to go through my medical routine before I could go to bed was making me want to cry. I didn’t even want to think about the repercussions on following days. All I could think, was “I wish I could never forget I’m sick”… to prevent me making the same mistakes yet again.

Backstory: I had been out after work, on a Wednesday, with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. The plan was dinner, catch up, and bake FODMAP gluten-free cookies. I would leave her house by 9.30 p.m., still making me later than usual for bed but within reasonable boundaries with a known small sleep-in the following day.

My first mistake was dinner. She had an idea of where she really wanted to take me, but remembered I was gluten-free so I was worried about whether it was possible. I realized I had a celiac test coming up, so had to eat gluten anyway… why not start with that dinner, only two days before my planned date anyway? And the cookies were still to be gluten-free. A small dose in the company of a dear friend would be fine, considering all circumstances.

But in weighing up the gluten issue, I completely forgot about my FODMAP needs. This is a more recent addition to my health management, one my friend probably didn’t even know about. It wasn’t until the shared plate was in front of us that I twigged. And then I thought, well, too late… let’s just try to eat more of what I can visibly see, that should be OK.

I was starting to feel it within an hour.

My second mistake was staying later than planned. We were on schedule, but my friend’s flatmate came home, and we get along well, so we all started talking then watching stuff online and before I knew it it was an hour after I intended to leave and I was only alerted to it by my brain and body suddenly starting to shut down.

My friend’s flatmate doesn’t know about all my conditions, and was trying eagerly to keep the conversation going. She had actually just asked me about my faith, a topic I would usually delve into very happily, especially with an interested atheist asking the questions… but I could barely cobble a reply, let alone muster any enthusiasm.

I got out the door about 20 minutes later (as is the usual minimum time frame between realizing it’s time to go and actually making it into the car), and chastised myself all the way home.

I struggled up the stairs, ignored my flatmate completely in my sensory overload (from the indoor lights and her music), autopiloted my way through medication and machine prep, and somehow made it into bed (in my PJs, I’m proud to say).

I was an absolute wreck the next day. I’ve never had a “proper” hangover, but from what I’ve heard… imagine the worst possible, and there was me.

Fast forward a few days, and I met up with another dear friend I also hadn’t seen in a long time. This was a Sunday, so still imperative to get to bed within my carefully tried and proven “reasonable hour” range for me to work the following day. We went shopping for dinner, and this friend is very aware of my gluten and FODMAP requirements. I was still in the process of eating gluten in small amounts daily for my celiac test, so the FODMAP-friendly soup with toast she suggested was absolutely perfect.

My downfall was dessert.

We always have dessert, so her question was reasonable: “What shall we have?”

I looked at the frozen selection before me sadly. Ice cream and sorbet were probably out of the question, and that’s what we normally have. That’s when my brain went into numb mode… I also have depression. My friend, quite rightly, said, “We don’t have to.” In fact, she said all the right things throughout. But my depressed brain switched to “f*ck it” mode, and we walked out with apple and rhubarb crumble and custard. Crumble, gluten, getting the test anyway… apple, a no-go for my diet but I haven’t tried it for myself yet so maybe it’s fine (my friend rightly said “But is now the time to try?” and I responded “b* it)… and i just won’t eat the custard (yeah right).

So my friend said all the right things, and even got me out the door in time. But I paid dearly for eating that small portion of dessert. Because, in that moment, I chose to “forget”my chronic illness.

It’s in this second story that my title changes.

I cannot lay blame on either of my friends, or even myself. Everyone wants to feel “normal,” and at those times when I am out having a wonderful time, sometimes I forget I’m sick, with strict management protocols in place to ensure a moment’s enjoyment isn’t a next day (or week) regret. Or, as in the second story, I will choose to rebel, because I feel I shouldn’t have to be thinking about all this in the first place.

So now my article is titled: “Please remind me that I’m sick.”

Here’s another example. If you were drinking with a friend and noticed they may be heading into “one too many” or “would not do that risky thing if unliquored” territory, you would step in. You would probably tell them “That’s enough,” time to drink some water and eat a bit, “Walk away,” or even remove their car keys, because it’s for their own safety and you care about them, and even if they chose to ignore you or got upset, if you felt they were truly at risk you would stay firm.

So now I’m asking all those who know enough about my conditions and care about me to remind me I am sick, and stay firm. I’m not saying you need to nanny me or ask with every little thing, but if you see me making a poor choice that will have repercussions on my well-being, take me aside and say something. If I respond oddly or upset, ask if I’m OK. Just like anyone else, I may be risk-taking for a number of reasons (and none positive).

Sometimes, being “in the moment,” I forget. Or in a situation where opportunities present, I choose to “forget.” Either way, I am guaranteed to suffer, even if it’s not immediately apparent, or until the “morning after.”

Reading this now, it sounds silly. But those days after each story I described, I was so impaired it was a real struggle to function. I managed out of sheer determination, and quite likely as a form of punishment in knowing it was my fault.

I’m sure this applies to more than just my food and bedtime needs as well. Everyone with chronic illness has their own struggles that society has long considered “personal,” but really, if you know their needs and see they are at risk, please, forget all that nonsense. Say something.

Please: Remind me that I’m sick.

Originally published: July 6, 2016
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