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The Friendships I Never Expected to Lose Because of My Chronic Pain

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Chronic pain turned my life upside-down and inside-out. I had to give up my rock climbing, skydiving and whitewater rafting. I cried as I signed the paperwork to sell my motorcycle. Seeing anyone dancing is a stab in the heart of intense longing. Even keeping up with work became a challenge, whereas it was once a joy. Chronic pain stole my life — one I worked very hard to build. But you know what? These are predictable losses when you spend the majority of your time in bed trying not to scream, hoping you will just pass out and maybe, just maybe, get a break. Yep, it was predictable that many of my hobbies had to go. What I didn’t see coming was how many friends it would cost me.

When you are in severe pain, you might not be the most social person in the world. Pain brings you down to a pinpoint focus aimed at finding some relief — any relief. So when a friend calls to ask if I want to come hang out and have dinner, like we have for the last 10 years, I have no choice but to decline, even as I long for a margarita, some good Mexican food and hours of girl talk and laughter. Of course, I want to go. I want that little slice normality more than anything. However, drinks and laughter aren’t what they used to be. Instead, it means I have to watch my meds so I can drive and would be relegated to a virgin margarita. I would have to set a place at the table for my pain because it was coming, invited or not, and it’s a noisy and demanding companion. My pain would be so loud that I would have trouble hearing the girl talk, miss all the laughter and to top it all off,  after all that effort, I would pay for it later.

With all this in mind, when the calls, texts, or emails come in I become very selective about what invitation I accept, but it is not what you think. I haven’t ranked my friends in order of importance, though I have stopped maintaining acquaintances. My decision to stay or go has more to do with what the activity is, how long of a drive, how many people, do I have places I can rest, and if I get into trouble am I somewhere safe and with someone I trust. It’s a lot to calculate and fewer and fewer situations met my needs. So over time I accept fewer and fewer invitations, then, of course, the invitations stop coming in. It’s a sad thing to happen, but I understood. People get sick of hearing no.

I get it, I really do, but what I didn’t expect was for some of my friends to turn on me. Some people didn’t just stop calling; instead, they took the time out of their day to attack me. I was told how I changed and how awful I am now. I was told I was selfish. I was told I was so much less than the person I used to be. I was attacked in person, on the phone, and on the internet. I experienced cruelty like I never had in my life before, and this was all happening when I was already struggling to simply survive. It was a day-by-day process and when the attacks started I was caught completely off guard. I had been pretty much bedridden for almost a year and could not for the life of me figure when or where I could have possibly offended these people so terribly. Most of them I hadn’t seen at all in that time. Everyone knew I was sick, so they knew I wasn’t just being a jerk. Didn’t they? What did I do? And when on earth did I possibly have the chance to do it?

I was devastated. I was in physical pain all the time, but this was a whole other kind of pain. One on top of the other was agonizing. Everything hurt. The world seemed so wrong, not at all what I had previously believed it to be. It was a cruel and angry place. Even though I backed away from everyone that was angry with me, the attacks continued for some time after. I never did figure out what I had done to some of them. I’m not entirely sure they even know. Before all this I had a lot of faith in the basic goodness in people. This experience was traumatic enough to alter that. Completely.  Now I expect the worst so I can be pleasantly surprised instead of blindsided.

When I started to talk to other people who had a severe illness, they had very similar stories and it was quite clear they were just as hurt by it. I’m not sure what brings this behavior on. I guess it is another side effect of severe and chronic illness. My best guess is that some people have trouble facing mortality and being your friend is a little too real for them to handle. Maybe they don’t want to deal with your new limitations, so they kill the relationship. Why it has to be done so violently, I’ll never know.

So if you find yourself attacked by people you believed would support you, just know you’re not alone. This seems, unfortunately, par for the course. There are other people out in the world that will accept you as you are and be a real friend. You just have to find them.

Follow this journey on Then Everything Changed.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 25, 2016
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