Friendship and Chronic Illness


Those of us with chronic illness know all to well how our disease{s} have changed our social lives.

We often don’t feel up to social visits – we barely survived the week, our weekends are for recouping. Not to mention that we have stacks of medical bills, so our “fun” budget may be limited. Those of us with chronic illness often prefer to be nestled at home, on our couch, resting up before facing another week.

In my early twenties, I had so many girlfriends. I was footloose and fancy free, a social butterfly if you will. As my Endometriosis and PCOS symptoms began to rage in my late twenties, I began disengaging from a lot of social activity out of neccessity. It didn’t take long and many friendships weeded themselves out of my life.

Now, at 34, I’ve learned that at times I have to back out of or say no to social activities. It isn’t that I don’t want to be there with my friends (I do!), but I know that if I don’t rest when I’m having a bad day or flare up, my week will be shot. I only have so much energy and when it’s gone, it’s gone. My weekends are for recharging my battery.

Having severe anemia and hypothyroidism only complicate my low energy levels. When I say I’m tired, it’s the real deal people.

The guilt I feel when backing out of a planned social activity is immense. I struggle to make the call or send the text to my friend for fear they will be angry with me or worse yet – hurt by my absence. I have felt the coldness in their responses and I just know I’ve disappointed them. And I can tell you my friends, that feels worse than my pain. The pain of tissue that grows in my body and attaches to organs, the pain of cysts bursting in the middle of the night, the pain of multiple surgeries, the pinching, burning, stabbing, aching pelvic pain is no match for the hurt I feel when someone I love has little to no empathy for me. That my friends is pain. 

This past weekend is a perfect example of how my chronic illnesses limit me. I hit the road at 6:15 am on Saturday morning to meet my friend in Green Bay for a boot camp lead by Peter from the bachelorette 🌹. I was PUMPED. When I woke up I knew it was going to be a rough day. I had pain and was feeling lightheaded. But I wasn’t about to miss yet another event, no sir!! By 6:45 I was nearing Pembine and had to pull into a gas station. The pain was so intense I thought I had to vomit. I went into the gas station, did my thing, and went back out to my car and literally sat there for about 15 minutes before I could even bring myself to tell my friend I was probably not going to make it. Probably? Yes, probably. I was trying to see if maybe I could still make it. The average person would not hesitate to go home with pain like that – many would head to the ER! Not me. I was fearful of upsetting my friend.

When I text my friend, I was met with nothing but kindness and empathy. No judgment, only concern. I’d like to say this is the typical response, but I’d be lying. Many people in life could take a page out my friend’s book.

Often my friends will say that it’s okay, but I can tell and I just know they are disappointed in me. They are unusually brief in their responses. I just know. I know they are upset. And that is what breaks my heart.

So how can you best support your friends who have chronic illness? Expect that they may cancel – have a back up plan so your friend knows they didn’t ruin your day and you’re still having fun. Respect your friends need for rest and believe them when they share with you that they are not up to it. Do not take this personally! It literally has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their disease. Offer a response that shows empathy and compassion. Offer to go to them! Go sit with them on their couch – chronic disease is lonely. I’ve never felt more alone than when I was supposed to be with friends and instead I’m all alone in my bed in pain. Don’t be afraid to go into the trenches and just be with your friend! 

With that being said, friendship isn’t one sided and it’s okay to expect that your friend still contribute to the relationship. Allow them to show you support in other ways – frequent texts or phone calls allows them to continue to be connected to you, even if they can’t see you in person.

At the end of the day, friendship is a two way street. However, you have to be willing to meet your friend half way. Just because this relationship is different than your other friends, doesn’t make it less valuable. Be willing to be creative, extend the olive branch, be kind, and let your friend know you still love them no matter what! Trust me, it makes a world of difference. I’m forever thankful for those friends who have shown me the above and I’m learning to let go of those who don’t. Friendship is about connection. We are bonded by our experiences and our mutual love and admiration for one another. That is worth preserving.