I’ll be there for you/When the rain starts to pour/I’ll be there for you/Like I’ve been there before/I’ll be there for you/’Cause you’re there for me too –The Remembrants, aka the theme song from Friends
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this is one of the biggest issues that Chronics are concerned about. You know, right after all that medical stuff.
Having a chronic illness changes so many things about your life, and your social life is no exception. You may have been the life of the party. Maybe you were really dependable, the friend everyone knew they could go to for advice. Whether you had 2 friends or 20, you had a social life before your chronic illness morphed it into something unrecognizable.
Or, alternatively, maybe you’ve been Chronic for so long, you never had a real chance to be social. The friends you shared crayons with in 1st grade thought you switched schools because you spent so much time at home or in the hospital. You knew more about your nurses and their interests than those of your age-appropriate peers.
Either way, you know that having friends is important, you feel like you want to be social, but you may also feel like you just don’t know how to anymore.
I am all over this. By coincidence or necessity, I have spent a lot of time NOT thinking about my social life. As fellow Chronics can attest, I have had More Important Things to focus on.
Like figuring out how to remain conscious. Important, we get it.
Now, though, I’m at a point in my Chronic journey where the heath stuff has reached a plateau. It’s not getting any worse <RightNow> but it’s also not getting any better <RightNow>. I know how my ChroNIC self works. Repeatedly, my doctors tell me to go off and think of other things (as though that were so easy), to get out there and be social.
Inadvertently, I have been doing just that this whole month of July. Two POTSie conferences and a backyard BBQ later, this is what I’ve learned: There are lots of different ways to have friends.
The first POTS conference I went to was a private event for the members of an online support group. The majority of us have talked to each other online before or at least have a passing familiarity with each others’ names. I have friends in this group that I talk to all year round and though mainly long distance, I would consider them “close” friends, as I’ve known them since I joined the group in 2009. Some people I only get to catch up with at this particular event each year, and that’s good too. Every year, there are “newbies” to meet who are at the conference for the first time. Meeting in person is wonderful, and can often be the difference between someone whose name I merely recognize to someone I’m now going to exchange birthday presents with every year (which I love to do!). Lesson learned: Online friends can become real life friends as long as you are smart and safe about it. (See Keeping up with the POTSies, July 7 for more about this event)
The second conference I went to was open to the public, and at around 400 people, was a much larger scale than my online support group family reunion the weekend before. I figured I was going for medical information, and that if I talked to anyone, it would be a passing recognition of “Hey, weren’t you in the session on sleep disorders?” I wasn’t sure I would make friends, but I did. Mid-conference dinner-dance parties have a way of making that happen. This was actually a pleasant surprise, because strangely, the longer I have been Chronic, the more I have begun to doubt my own ability to do “normal” things, like making new friends. I am told by other Chronics that it’s a common feeling. However, I’m calling Bull-crap on this feeling, because it’s NOT true. I don’t recall doing anything special or out of the ordinary that helped me make friends. I smiled, said “Is this seat taken?” sat down, introduced myself, engaged in conversation (LISTENING and talking-don’t forget the listening part!) and an hour later we were dancing (kind of, we are POTSies after all) and exchanging contact information. Friend=Made (x5-Hi, new friends!) Lesson learned: Friends can be made anytime, any place.
This past weekend, my family threw a small BBQ party. It wasn’t meant to be small, but apparently summer is the perfect time to go on vacation, so there you go, small gathering. But small is good! Because the people who showed up happen to be some of my favorites (not that I have favorites…), people that I have known longer than I have not known them. It was purely coincidental that the friends that were able to come all happened to be people that my sister and I met in elementary school. Which is kind of a long time to know people (15-20 years!). When I think of these friends this is what comes to mind:
At one point, my sister and I calculated that we hadn’t seen R in nearly 8 years. Which totally blew our minds because it felt like we had just hung out yesterday. It actually seemed to be that way with quite a few people- I may not have seen them in <InsertRidiculouslyLongPeriodOfTime> or there may have been gaps when someone went away to college (them) or couldn’t get out of bed for a month (me), but it didn’t feel like it. It just felt comfortable. And fun. Lesson Learned: You don’t have to see someone all the time to stay friends with them. You can re-ignite a friendship at anytime.
Ok, Ok, this is all well and good, I can hear you saying to me, Chronic Reader, but what about when you get dumped?
Ew. Yes. The friend dump. Made all the worse by the fact that they are dumping you for some reason related to your chronic illness.
I have had this happen. It is AWFUL and HEARTBREAKING and lots of other negative things ALSO IN CAPS.
I went to a very small all-girls high school, and my group of friends consisted of about 10 girls, though I tried to be friendly with everyone (necessary when your senior class is less than 70 people). I wasn’t diagnosed in high school but I was symptomatic and tried to hide it because I didn’t understand it and just thought I was going crazy (See I’m not having a panic attack, I have a heart condition! July 25). I thought that I had good relationships with my friends, though, in spite of this.
However, when I had to stop going to school the second semester of my senior year because I was so, so sick, no one called to find out why I never came back.
Really. No one.
I got invited to one graduation party, and I had a graduation party of my own that a few of them came to, but that was it.
It hurt. That’s all there is to it.
I tried to be in touch with one or two of them through the beginning of our college years, but with them away and me so sick, it just fizzled out. I let it, just as much as they did.
I was, however, very forcefully dumped by one friend who point blank told me I was “batshit crazy”, which unfortunately has nothing to do with Batman (love Batman? See July 23).
When you get dumped, it feels like its all your fault. You think, if only I had been better, had been able to be present for all those friend-things (senior year parties or even just going to the movies), if I just hadn’t been Chronic, that it never would have happened and everything would be FINE right now.
Here’s a secret, Chronic reader: It probably would have happened sooner or later.
Hold on, don’t recoil from your computer screen in rage, let me explain.
People who would dump you because of something you can’t control are NOT good friends to have. Period. Even if you were perfectly healthy, somewhere in the course of your friendship, something would come up, as it does for everyone, that is Hard. That person who would dump you because you are Chronic would dump you for any Hard situation. Do you want a friend like that? I don’t.
I want friends like my friends A, A & V, who responded to my Chronic news with something along the lines of “I may not understand what you’re going through, but I will always be here for you!”
Those are the friends you invite to your BBQ parties year after year. (It’s important to also return the sentiment- I hope they know that the same goes for me…I will always be <AsHereAsICanBe> even if I may not understand.)
It might be time to re-evaluate your social life, Chronic reader. I’ve been there, done that, and am much happier for it. When you make room in your life for new friends, they will show up.
And all you’ll have to do is smile =)
*PS: Speaking of friends, I’d love to be yours! Like my page www.facebook.com/iamchronicallywell and let me know how you maintain friendships while being your Chronically Awesome self!