Maintaining friendships can be challenging in average circumstances. Doing so when you feel like crap all the time, whether physically, emotionally, or both? That’s even trickier. For a long time, I was able to compartmentalize my pain. It was always there, but I could still hang out with friends, go out for drinks, go dancing, walk around amusement parks, and do other touristy fun stuff. Then I started having to fake it and force myself to ignore my increasing pain levels. Then I started having to sit out certain activities like dancing or walking around some outdoor event. Then came the need to cut the outing short, to cancel plans last minute, and ultimately to avoid making plans altogether. It left me with a mix of emotions. Sometimes I would feel forgotten by friends. Sometimes I would feel guilty for not being able to be an active member in my relationships.
Everything about having a social life is extremely exhausting for me. If I want to go out, I have to expend energy showering and getting ready. That can’t start until a couple of hours after I’ve gotten out of bed. The reason for that is because I’m extremely weak and my pain is a 9 on the pain scale upon waking. Once I get to where I’m going, I have to actively push the pain down so that I can be present for my friend/s and whatever it is we are doing. I’m also worried that if I let my pain show in my face, that they will think I’m fishing for sympathy, making the outing about me, or that I will just ruin our time together. I’m also worried that I’m going to have a pain spike while I’m out and have to cut everything short. Being in my head is annoying. Pain spike or not, I will be out of commission for a day or two after my day out.
Recently, I had a sort of clash, for lack of a better word, with a friend. She told me that I had hurt her because I didn’t make an effort to see her. I immediately bristled at that. I felt that she was trying to make me feel guilty over something that was out of my control. So we went back and forth, and we ended up upsetting each other and hurting each others’ feelings. But the truth is that neither one of us was actually in the wrong. We both had valid emotions about the situation and valid needs. We were just coming at it from our own perspectives. What was I so upset over? My friend missed me and wanted to spend time with me. She has her own issues she is dealing with and wants to share. She isn’t here with me every day. She doesn’t see what I deal with on a daily basis. She doesn’t live in my body. She doesn’t feel what I feel on an hourly basis. She isn’t psychic. All she knows is that we haven’t seen each other in a long time, and my lack of effort hurts her. Instead of getting upset or offended, I could have calmly explained to her exactly how hard it is for me to be social and why. The perfect tool for that would have been The Spoon Theory. If I’m honest, these past six months or so have felt as though I have, not just limited spoons, but a deficit of spoons. While I absolutely should practice self-care, I should also understand that as the other half of this relationship, she also has needs. I’m not where she is and I don’t see what she deals with every day. We should be communicating and treating each other with empathy, because that is what friends do. Life events and illness don’t change that.
If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d be completely isolated. In addition to being able to talk to the friends I’ve made in person, it’s allowed me to make friends with people I’d otherwise never have known. Dealing with a chronic illness is a daily battle. Carrying it without my army of friends would be a lonely thing.