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How the Pandemic Changed Our Friendships as People With Health Conditions

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The waning but still very much ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has transformed many aspects of daily life, especially for people with health conditions. Even as things shift toward so-called “normal,” many people with chronic illnesses and disabilities are continuing to limit social outings and wear masks, while living with a higher level of anxiety because others around them are no longer being cautious. And many people with health conditions have found that the pandemic has altered their relationships in both positive and negative ways.

We asked our Mighty community to share how the pandemic has affected their friendships and social lives. Here’s what they had to say.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

For some in our community, social distancing was nothing new

“I’m a mama to twin 6-year-old-boys (born at 27 weeks via emergency c-section) and a 2-year-old little girl who was born with a complex congenital heart disease. I’ve been in survival mode for the last six years… much of which has been spent in self-isolation while raising my children. … I assume anyone and everyone we encounter could possibly be sick, even if they aren’t showing symptoms. This is how I’ve always operated since becoming a mom, long before the coronavirus was even a threat. … I’ve gone months and months without seeing friends, without seeing family, without shopping, without going to the salon, without self-care, without going to social gatherings, without celebrating holidays, without hugs and instead I just stayed home with my babies.” — Nisha Gutierrez-Jaime (Read the full story)

“Twelve years’ experience in trying not to catch any bacterial or viral infections. I so have this corona thing down to a tee. After all, remember: MS is unpredictable, immune-mediated, without a cure.” — Willeke Van Eeckhoutte (Read the full story)

And some people found peace in the quiet

“I stayed alone at the house before it was called quarantine, and a lot of my friends, even if we could meet up in real life, would mostly talk online. Still, I admit there was a very deep intense frustration over not having the option, even if it was only occasionally each month to meet in person. I thought I was incredibly introverted, but even I had limits. I think when this all passes, I’ll absolutely be meeting people in person more than I used to. I also find that I actually wanted to be alone more. All the work I had to do was exhausting… and I felt I had to find someplace beyond the busy part of it all to think deeply about my life, and also get in touch with my feelings. I think quarantine forced me to do that. It felt horrible, but I’m thankful it helped me to become more reflective and introspective, considering I always seemed to have needed constant activity before. It’s easier for me nowadays to stay seated in stillness, and find peace in the quiet. I couldn’t do that before… but I still miss face-to-face meetings a bit.” — @coconutflowers

Many people struggled with loneliness

“The friendships haven’t changed but getting to see my elderly neighbors and check in with them in person was difficult for a long while until we all got our vaccinations. Now we are all much more mindful of even simple coughs and colds.” — @painzombie

“My true friendships are about the same but I miss the casual socializing of neighbors and such.” –@tammyward3

“The pandemic has destroyed my social network. It was small to begin with, but when people stopped going out, and started realizing how important their families really are (blood or chosen), I, as a single person, states away from my family, and in both a demographic and geographic location of high risk for COVID-19, have been crushed by the isolation. My three deepest relationships are with my sister (1,200 miles away, whom I haven’t seen face to face since 2016), and two friends here on The Mighty. I continue to try to make new friends by starting to work out at the gym, and attend library events as my energy allows. I’m exhausted, but I won’t give up hope.” — @serene_compassion

“Being responsible for myself and my choices is quite awkward for me in a way, because some of my friends just don’t get it. They’ve never had to spend one night in the hospital, let alone a month or two months. They’ve never felt the absolute crushing disappointment when a doctor says they can’t fix your problem. Most of all, though, they’ve never had their bodies fail them time and time again.” — Molly Herman (Read the full story)

Some felt devalued and lost family and friends

“I was born without a whole immune system. I never expected anyone to turn on me for it. … I saw Facebook friends say things like, ‘Don’t worry, only immune-compromised people will die from COVID.’ I was verbally attacked by family members for following medical advice in a pandemic when my body does not make enough antibodies needed to fight infection. I was told I was destroying not only my family by avoiding infection, but also the country! I guess true patriots spread disease during a global pandemic?” — Joanna Tierno (Read the full story here)

“I had one so-called friend go so far as to outrightly state he believed ‘the elderly and immunocompromised were acceptable losses if it meant reopening the country and bolstering the economy.’ I couldn’t even bring myself to argue or debate his point of view with him — I just unfriended him and ceased all contact then and there. … I still find myself sad thinking about the loss of that friendship and others like it. However, I know in my heart I would not have been an acceptable loss. None of those we knew who survived would have been acceptable losses, either, had they died. And all those who did ultimately die were absolutely not acceptable losses. The only acceptable loss in my opinion in that situation was that friendship.” — B.L. Acker (Read the full story here)

“I’ve distanced myself from family and friends who won’t get vaccinated (unless they have a doctor-verified medical reason). I take it very personally. If someone won’t get the vaccine, they are endangering me and millions of others, and therefore, they don’t truly care about me. This is causing some tension in my family, but I’m holding my ground.” — karin-willison

And learned who their true friends are

“My friendships have changed dramatically! I am standing up for myself now and I even found how emotionally abusive one friendship was on both sides.” — @randie_cenwig

“This has shown me who my true real friends are, and I don’t really have a lot of friends in the first place, but I have even fewer now. But that’s OK with me because if someone isn’t being their true genuine self to me then I’d rather know about it and keep those people away from me. I refuse to let anyone take up space in my life that isn’t making me or my life better. And if you screw up now, I am only giving you one chance and that’s it. I used to see the good in everyone; now I look for the ways I think they’re going to hurt me! At the same time, it’s taught me valuable life lessons and made me aware of others’ intentions and their BS! It’s helped me to learn how to set boundaries better, what boundaries even really are, and how I have to make them clear.” — @krissisworld

“It definitely weeds out who your real friends are. Add a career-ending injury occurring the year before, and you discover your real friends… fewer than I ever thought.” — @volbird

“True colors have come out for acquaintances which led me to evaluate my friends. Fewer friends, better conversations.” — @megan1234

“It’s made me value those who were true and leave those who were only around when it was convenient for them.” — @crazy_vix

“I realized that I am my only ‘true’ friend. And even then, I need to be a better friend to myself.” — @giajames

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your friendships?

Let us know in the comments.

Getty image by Nicolas McComber.

Originally published: May 2, 2022
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