Five Reasons Why Chronically Ill People Can Be Good Friends
By Maria | @MariaLivesWell | March 19, 2019
Living with a chronic illness can present many challenges, and friendships are often impacted. I’ve lost friends due to their lack of understanding and patience. When that happens, it’s tempting to blame myself for causing the loss. In reality, their judgements and hurtful decisions aren’t my responsibility. Some people can handle my illness while others cannot. I don’t need to feel guilty about something that’s written in my DNA, or how it effects my energy. At times, though, I start to see myself as a “bad friend.” I can’t show up for every occasion, go out for endless hours of fun, access many environments, share meals, drive to see friends, or respond to every text in a timely manner. When my body crashes, it truly crashes. I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to be friends with someone so… inconvenient. When I dwell on only the negatives, however, I’m grossly selling myself short. People with chronic illnesses can be amazing, loving, and intentional friends. Our time and energy are precious, so we use it well. We may not show up to every party, but we contribute value in our own ways.
Do you need a little convincing? Well, I came up with a few specific reasons why people living with chronic illnesses can be good friends.
1. We are empathetic.
Regularly facing tough symptoms can allow someone to better understand another person's pain. Beyond the physical discomfort, chronically ill people may have a deep understanding of emotional pain. Many of us experience isolation or face unfair doubts. Although I wouldn’t wish my painful experiences on anyone, I believe they’ve helped me to understand what my friends are feeling when they struggle with life’s challenges. Showing up for people might mean responding to a text or simply listening over the phone. Limited energy is frustrating, but a short note can be enough for a person to feel seen and heard. Whether it’s lending a shoulder to cry on or offering advice (when asked), we can support our friends with love.
2. Facing challenges can teach us to be spontaneous.
I’ve attended great concerts, spur of the moment, on my better days. After a health dip delayed one trip, I planned another once my symptoms improved and set off within days. Since so much of our time is often spent resting and feeling icky, people living with chronic illnesses seize opportunities to enjoy life. Our friends benefit from that spontaneity as they join us on little adventures! If friends extend invitations for last-minute fun, we may be able to jump on board. Even when that’s not possible, it’s nice to be asked. We learn to live in the moment, and we pass the that golden lesson on to our friends.
3. We learn to adapt, so we may be more flexible than others.
Life with a chronic illness can be brimming with obstacles, and we figure out how to handle them. I don’t mind if a friend has to cancel on me at the last minute, because I will surely do the same thing down the line. Okay, that will happen many times. We might be more understanding of schedule shifts, cancellations, and other changes because we know how it feels to be on the other end. Our version of being “flexible” might not entail moving mountains to accommodate others. Instead, it means patiently trying again or video chatting in the meantime. Adaptability goes hand in hand with creativity, and that combination can be interesting and energizing for our friends. We learn from each other.
4. Our energy and time together may be limited, so we optimize it.
If anyone’s looking for a community that lives life to the fullest, look no further. My friends with similar health challenges find creative ways to pursue their dreams. They find joy within incredibly difficult situations and even laugh amidst it all. Unlike healthier friends who have exponentially more energy, many people with chronic illnesses have to be very careful with their short supply. I can swiftly wear myself out talking on the phone or riding in cars. Looking at a day and budgeting my energy resources is hugely important. That way, I hopefully won’t crash so hard that I’m out of commission for a long period. When we are hanging out with our friends, chronically ill people may bring a sense of appreciation and respect for each other’s time. We’ve set aside a chunk of our limited energy resources for our friends, so we’re not going to waste it. Personally, I’ll laugh a bit harder and have more meaningful discussions when I remember how precious that time really is.
5. We often use humor to cope, and that laughter is infectious!
My illness isn’t infectious, but my frequent laughter sure is. Chronic health challenges are serious business, and everyone needs moments of levity to break the tension. The same sense of humor that brings light to boring waiting rooms can bring smiles to friends’ faces. Honestly, I’ve never met a single person who complained about having too many reasons to laugh and smile. Friends support each other through struggles and heartbreak, but they also share the good times. Those good times aren’t isolated to less symptomatic days. Rather, they’re sprinkled as tiny priceless moments throughout life’s topsy-turvy rollercoaster.
I think that many chronically ill people, including myself, underestimate the value of their contributions. We have so much to give, both to healthier people and fellow friends on their own chronic illness journeys. Our diverse perspectives need to be expressed and heard. It’s okay to have disagreements and to speak up when something makes you uncomfortable, even when it seems inconvenient. The needs of chronically ill friends matter, and acknowledging them doesn’t take away from anyone’s value within a relationship. Real friends seek to understand each other’s challenges, and they do their best to provide loving support. If your “best” is a five-minute phone call before falling asleep at two o’clock in the afternoon, that’s enough. You are enough, and we can all be good friends.
Maria is a twenty-something young woman who lives with Mitochondrial Disease (Mito), Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and sundry. In fact, Maria endeavors to live well amidst her progressive health challenges. She loves writing, diving into a good book, snuggling with her dog, connecting with friends, exploring non-toxic makeup, and advocating for the Mito community. You can find her on Instagram at @marialiveswell.