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When Your Chronic Illness Reveals Who Your True Friends Are

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It’s easy to forget just how drastically your relationships can be affected by living with Crohn’s disease. It’s definitely something I have struggled to adapt to since I became ill myself. Several years down the line and minus serval inches of intestine, I still find maintaining my closest relationships alongside my illness to be an ongoing challenge.

Anyone who has ever experienced a prolonged period of illness or suffers from a chronic and/or incurable condition will more than likely have established rather quickly who they can count on in their hours of need. This discovery in itself can be both a blessing in disguise and heartbreaking in equal measure. People you have perhaps known the majority of your life are suddenly distancing themselves from you and you can’t quite put your finger on why. Of course, you know it’s because you are sick, but you certainly don’t want to accept that this person would back away from you now, at the moment you need them most. It can be difficult to admit it to yourself and can leave you feeling worthless, alone and in a strange state of limbo where it can seem as though the illness is changing every aspect of your life.

Personally, I’ve been incredibly lucky in my own relationships. A few acquaintances have slipped by the wayside as I’ve traveled along on my diseased journey, but that’s OK. I now know I’ve changed in many ways — mostly for the better. I’m still the same woman I always was, but now I don’t tolerate any nonsense. I don’t allow anyone to make me feel small or in some way less of a person purely because I am ill. Invisible illnesses can often make you feel just that: invisible.

I choose to have people in my life who make me feel loved, safe and smile — those people who make me happy and allow me to be myself. I’m sick and will be sick until I’m here no more, so I want to make the most of my time. Especially when so much of that time can be spent with my head or backside down the toilet, in bed or in the hospital.

There is absolutely no shame in discussing these feelings and worries with your friends. If they feel initially uncomfortable in talking about your condition, that can be wholly understandable. There can be a huge shift in your lifestyle that can affect your social life and romantic life, which will in turn affect those around you. It’s important to make allowances for that and allow them time to accept your new life, too. I now know that the friends I have put my well-being above anything trivial like missing a night out. If I can’t make a date, I let them know and they never pressure me, never show annoyance (even though I’m sure sometimes it must grate) and always ask for my welfare above all else. They know how much I try and how much I care for them, and I know it’s 100 percent OK to be cared for in return.

The men and women in my life are the best people I’ve ever known. My loved ones know they have an unspoken promise of support reciprocated, and it makes for a feeling of security and love that leaves me blissfully happy. I love my friends and feel that love in return like a cold flannel on my face when I’m having a hot flush (often literally).

Ridding your life of toxic people or just dead wood in your friendships makes more room for the good ones to get in. It can be hard enough to make time for your loved ones, so don’t waste valuable time on those who don’t deserve it. That should really be a general rule for life, illness or not. Making allowances for the way your illness affects those around you is crucial. But accepting feeling like a burden is never, ever to be tolerated.

Kathleen (right) and a friend

Follow this journey on Crohnological Order.

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? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: December 29, 2015
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