Friday, September 16, 2011

Mission 2011:
Friendship Fresh Start

Forget-me-not by chrissi
I admit I have been obsessing over a friendship that is stalled.

I say stalled because there has been minimal contact for most of 2011.  The last time I saw this friend was almost a year ago.  The last time I talked to this friend on the phone was about four months ago.

The Way Things Were

When I first started living with chronic pain and fatigue, my friend made the effort to visit me frequently.  Since I was limited in my ability to drive, she came to see me.  In between visits, there was lots of interaction via phone, email and social networking sites.

In short, I felt connected, included and loved.  I felt like my friend really "got it" about how chronic illness was changing my life and I felt thrilled that this wasn't going to be an obstacle to our friendship.

Life Changes

Then my friend starting changing her life about two years.  She wanted better things for herself and I wanted this for her too.  I don't begrudge any choices my friend has made, even when those choices meant there was less time for me and our friendship. I switched friendship gears and focused on being patient, supportive and understanding.

The Problem

Unfortunately,  during this change I have not feeling very supported or understood anymore.  For example, coming to my place for a get-together is now inconvenient or a problem.  Plus my chronic illness lifestyle (yes, it's a lifestyle, one I didn't choose and don't like) now appears to be an impediment to our friendship.

What hurts is knowing that my friend continues to make time for a lot of different people, places and things.  It just seems like she doesn't have time for me.  I was expecting a call or message from her after my recent surgery, but she didn't contact me.  I felt very disappointed.

Trying to Sort It Out

I'm not a person to take friendships lightly, and certainly not when there are many years invested in a relationship.

I want to believe that this is a phase: a rough patch or a bump in the road.  I also want to attribute this to something I'd like to call chronic friendship burnout.  It's a phenomenon that occurs when you realize your friend's chronic illnesses aren't going away and are hit with compassion fatigue.  I mean, we all muster the troops when someone gets sick, but how long can you maintain that level of support when someone's illness goes on, and on, and on and on!

A Fresh Start

This week I found myself debating whether to try and reach out to this friend again.  As I was going over the pros and cons in my head, I realized that I had another alternative.

There was another friend I hadn't heard from lately.  Like me, she lives with chronic pain and chronic illnesses.  We met in dog training class.  Through that experience, we learned that we share many of the same chronic illness challenges and lifestyle.

I know that I hadn't heard from her not because she was busy, but because she was overcoming by her illness, just like I am a lot of the time.

So I decided to call her instead.

She was so happy to hear from me.  She said she had been thinking about me and I must have responded to her good thoughts about me.  We spent 90 minutes catching up on the phone--something of a record for me!  We made some tentative plans to get-together one afternoon and walk our dogs at a local park 10 minutes from my house, a plan that fit with what I am able to do.  Most importantly, I hung up feeling appreciated, supported and understood.

Final Thoughts

I don't want to imply that if you are sick, all your friends should be sick too.  Sick friends do have an advantage over healthy ones in terms of understanding your situation.  But healthy friends have the ability to help you do more if they are so inclined to assist you.  Ideally you have a mix of both in your life, although the impact chronic illness has on all your friendships definitely cannot be overlooked.

There is a saying:  Make new friends, but keep the old, One is silver and the other gold.  I'm not sure where my old friend and I are going.  Spending time worrying about it only makes me sad. So why not, in the meantime, focus my energy on growing a friendship with a new friend.  After all, I'll still be here if my old friend wants to reconnect; chronic illness makes sure I am not going anywhere fast. 

For now I'm going to try a friendship fresh start.

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Jamie said...

Selena, I'm so glad you shared this. Friendships can really take a beating, when one of them becomes chronically ill. I know that I've been faced with these challenges, and it can be very painful. Chronic friendship burnout... so true (sad, but true). I think you made a wise choice to spend time building a new relationship/friendship. You have a healthy attitude, and I appreciate you sharing it. Blessings.

deb aka murphthesurf said...

Thirteen years into this ra journey and I can sooo relate to this post. I still am so fortunate in that some of my friends have stuck by me but I also only expose them in monitored doses of my ra. And...since moving the distance puts a natural buffer there (for their protection from burnout). But, finding new friends when having a chronic illness can be a challenge but it is doable as you show in your post. Good luck on your friendship search.

Migrainista said...

I'm also very glad you shared this. Friendships are so vitally important and maybe more so when life gets tough. This fatigue is so true. Like you, I can totally see how this happens but that doesn't make it any easier.

Lee said...

This post makes me sad as i have unfinished friend business. Gets me thinking though...thanks.
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