You know from firsthand experience that there is no greater litmus test for true friendship than a chronic illness diagnosis. There is nothing like an abrupt and life-changing shift in your health status to weed out the opportunists from the tried-and-true variety of friends.
In many ways, the loss of relationships is one of the cruelest and most painful realities of learning to live with a chronic illness – especially since you need them now more than ever.
People you thought would be there for you through thick and thin are now distracted by social plans with their friends who aren’t sick in bed. They are suddenly too busy to answer your texts, let alone stop by your house with a meal or flowers.
The thing is that people who have yet to confront a traumatic event (such as a debilitating disease) may not have had the chance to learn who their real friends are, which is something you can be thankful to see clearly now.
While you would not wish your circumstances on them, it’s okay to hope that one day they, too, will have the opportunity to grow. (It will be good for them.)
It’s also okay to acknowledge that not all relationships are meant to last forever. Sometimes you recognize it’s time to grieve and let go.
In the meantime, who can you surround yourself with to have the love and support you need? After all, those are two things necessary for survival, just above food, water, and a roof over your head.
The good news is that just as chronic illness can push away those who can’t relate, can’t empathize, and just can’t deal, so too can it attract some pretty amazing individuals – the ones who are ready and eager to rally for you.
There are seven common types of friends that can help you take care of yourself and heal.
(If you’re thinking that having seven friends would be nearly impossible to attain given the current state of your social calendar, remember that some of these incredible personality types may be combined into one person.)
- The caregiver friend. Maybe it’s your biological mother or a worthy substitute with a strong maternal instinct who brings a pot of chicken soup, remembers your favorite essential oils, and offers to accompany you to your medical appointments. They wrap you in a warm blanket – whether literally or with a hug – and send you cards on significant anniversaries. Ultimately, they have your best interests at heart and will do anything to show it (even when it feels a little smothering).
- The counselor friend. When anxiety and depression rear their ugly heads in the face of chronic illness, there is no substitute for a professional. Sometimes, however, your need for reflection extends beyond your weekly appointment with a therapist. This friend who invites you into her home, hands you a cup of warm tea, and leads you to a comfy seat on her couch for a deep discussion about the meaning of life is irreplaceable (especially when they offer their services for free) – just don’t forget to ask her about her own life occasionally, too!
- The physician friend. Or nurse friend. Or expert Google researcher friend. You know the one. The one who isn’t afraid to hear the nitty gritty details – what your poop looked like this morning, how much hair has fallen out this week, where that rash popped up yesterday. On top of that, they take your worries seriously and help you find concrete answers to put your mind at ease (eat more fiber, stop stressing, and try this cream). Bonus points if they don’t mind you calling at any hour of the night.
- The peer friend. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness creates a sudden awareness of all the other people in the world who are dealing with the same thing even though you didn’t realize it in your previous life. Finding a friend with the exact same diagnosis, who likely sees the exact same specialists and takes some of the exact same prescription medications, is a lot like the old days when your friendships were based on music or clothing styles. (It’s just that now your preferred clothing style may more often than not be sweatpants.)
- The coach friend. A friend with whom you can commiserate in your sweatpants offers a sense of belonging and acceptance, but it also helps to have a friend who pushes you out of your comfort zone. While it can be annoying when someone insists that you might feel better if you just cleaned up your diet, exercised a little, or reconnected spiritually – sometimes they are right. This friend encourages and inspires you to keep testing your limits, proving that you may never know what you’re capable of even with chronic illness.
- The party planner friend. After all the tears, soul-searching, personal growth, and health consciousness, sometimes a girl just wants to have fun! This friend gets that you’re ill, but isn’t too concerned with the details and knows how to pull you out of your shell when you’ve spent a few too many days at home feeling sorry for yourself. They can help you to feel human again, which is great if you don’t push so hard that you pay for it the rest of the week. (It doesn’t hurt to have back-up transportation available if you need to make an early exit.)
- The best friend. For some, this may be a higher power, a spouse, or someone you’ve known since childhood (and while the term implies a superlative, there’s no reason you can’t have multiple best friends). Maybe you are fortunate enough to have all three in your life. You can even learn to be your own best friend. The point is that this friend would do anything for you – even sacrifice their own comfort and convenience to be there for you when you need them. You can tell them anything – the darkest, most painful secrets of your soul and the very things that need to be expressed to help you heal.
How many of these friends would you say that you have in your life now? Are there any more not included in this list that you would like to share in the comments below?
It is no secret that relationships are one of the building blocks of a happy and satisfying life and having a chronic illness means that you need these friends more than ever. This is just one of the topics tackled in my premium coaching program.