I found this to be true in my experience too. At the onset of my disabling Migraine disease, there was this rush of support from both family and friends. Friends from work, friends from places I volunteered at, friends from church, and my close friends called, texted, and asked what they could do to help. My first hospital stay for Migraines in early November 2005 lasted four days. I received a multitude of cards and gifts. I was visited by my supervisor from my job, my mom, my dad, probably about eight to ten friends, and my then fiance/now husband. Then days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years. Five hospital stays later, I was in the hospital for two weeks in October 2009. George, my husband, was the only one to show up. As it was my sixth hospital stay, I did not need nor did I want my parents to drive all the way up from Kentucky to visit. But, I could have used a visit from a friend or local family member. Sure, people commented on my Facebook status, but really, how hard is that? I guess it is better than nothing...
Life threw me a huge curve ball when I realized that I was losing friends because of my chronic illness. I wasn't in the places I used to be that cultivated those friendships: work, volunteering, church, small group, going out and parties. Even though, I tell myself, I would not forget or leave a friend who has been suffering no matter what, I cannot expect that others would respond how I would respond. So, I have learned to lower my expectations and accept that my friends have limitations. And over the years I have learned not to blame my lack of connections on my friends. Henri Nouwen says very beautifully in Bread for the Journey,
As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives. Our many needs constantly interfere with our desire to be there for the other unconditionally. Our love is always limited by spoken or unspoken conditions. What needs to be forgiven? We need to forgive one another for not being God!
Having disabling Migraines and Meniere's inherently presents problems in maintaining friendships. While my friends without chronic illness have other limitations that affect our friendships; my illnesses are some of mine. When my Migraines or Meniere's symptoms are severe, I am unable to interact with anyone, inclulding my husband, George. When my Migraines are more moderate, it is extremely difficult for me to have phone conversations or in-person conversations. They wear me out and I "pay" for them later with more intense pain and fatigue.
I try to step out of my shoes and into my friends shoes and realize that it is difficult for them too. They do not want to "bother" me. Many say they don't call me because they don't want to bother me with a phone call despite my reassurance that I will not answer the phone if I am not able to and I love getting voice mails. And I imagine after many unanswered phone calls, they may feel they are being ignored or are unwanted. It is complicated.
I find that friendships with others who have chronic illness are somewhat easier than having friendships with those who do not. Friendships with those who are chronically ill require patience, understanding and persistence. And when you are chronically ill, you are more prone to have those qualities in interacting with someone else who has chronic illness because you "get it." We check up on each other and we don't take offense if the other does not get back with us. I have found my friendships with others with chronic illness at times to be more authentic than my friendships with those who are not chronically ill. We usually are more honest with each other about the issues we are facing and how they affect us. We usually go into the details of how we are managing our illnesses and share helpful strategies with each other. We also tend to know what to say or not say when the other is going through a particularly difficult time.
A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17
I have formed relationships that are as close to me as family with my friends who have chronic illnesses. I do not have any biological sisters, but I have many sisters in the chronic illness community. Adversity has draw us close together. Though these friendships bring me much satisfaction, most of these sisters live in other parts of the country. I wish I had more close friendships with people who lived near me who are not chronically ill. I have had five and a half years practice and I am still trying to figure out how to maintain friendships with those who are relatively "healthy" and lead relatively "normal" lives when I don't live a "healthy" or "normal" life.
How do you maintain your friendships with those who are not chronically ill?