Fair weathered friends...
Or is it, “Birds of a feather flock together?…” I knew that I was going somewhere when I chose that title and picture. Either way, this post can be kind of a touchy subject for some people. There is no easy way to deal with the strain that is put on relationships when one person in that duo becomes chronically ill. I have read MANY articles about the subject, studied many blogs and experienced the loss of close friends over the past three years since treating my Chronic Lyme Disease. Thankfully, I have also gained some very dear people in my life and without them, this would be a very lonely disease. I will do my best to explain this subject without ruffling any feathers.
Chronic Lyme Disease has made me miss out on a lot of events in normal everyday life. I can’t even begin to tell you how many invitations I have had to turn down over the past three years. The first year was the worst because I still had a lot of friends back then and I had led a fairly social life prior to getting sick. As time went on and I had to say, “Sorry, I just don’t feel up to coming” the invitations started to slow down and the friends started to evaporate. I was warned that this would happen and quite frankly, I was too sick to give it much thought. Entering my third year of treatment, I still cannot leave the house to attend any functions but there are no invitations coming in so it is one less thing I have to worry about.
Chronically ill people hate discouraging the friends we have in our lives, so we feel terrible when we have to keep saying no to invitations. Believe it or not, it also hurts our feelings to receive invitations because they remind us of the things we can’t do anymore. We are trapped in a physical limbo of hell and although our friends may mean well by inviting us to their upcoming soiree, it only serves to remind us that everyone else has continued on with their lives while we languish here in our beds. Forgotten by the human race.
The thing to remember is that just because your friend can’t do the things that you always used to do with them, it doesn’t mean that they have to stop being your friend. Sure, they can’t come to your Tupperware party this Saturday or they can’t go out to the bar with you anymore but there are still plenty of things that you can do together to maintain a close friendship. They need you now, more than ever, so here are a few ideas for ways to stay in their life while working around their chronic illness.
The easiest thing you can do is to offer to drop by and sit by their bed to chat for an hour or so. Remember to keep it short because they get tired very easily and look for the signs that they have had enough because they most likely will never ask you to leave. Always remember to call first and find out from either your friend or the caregiver what time is best for them because they tend to have a totally different body clock than the average person. It can get pretty lonely being in the same room day after day, staring at the same four walls, watching the same TV or computer and never having any visitors. They could use a laugh, a warm embrace from a dear friend or simply someone to chat about something besides their illness.
Also, prepare for them to look like hell so if you don’t have a good poker face, you might want to work on that before you show up. They already feel horrible so the last thing they need is to see a look of utter shock on the face of their friends. On that note, ladies, why don’t you offer to give your friend a manicure or pedicure to make her feel better? You know full well that she isn’t making any trips to the salon these days and probably misses the pampering very much. If you have a talent for massage, that’s even better! Anything that will take away their pain is always welcomed. It’s the little things that will make the biggest difference in the life of your chronically ill friend.
Let’s say your not “that” close but you still want to do something for your friend, see if you can run an errand for them. They certainly aren’t getting their own groceries and picking up their medications so who is doing all of that? If it is only one other person, I would bet that they are pretty darn tired! The next time you are at the store make a point of calling the caregiver to see if they need a couple of quick items and go five minutes out of your way to drop them off. It doesn’t have to turn into a lengthy visit but you just saved the caregiver having to get dressed, get in the car, run to the store, get the items, wait in line, pack the car and quickly get back home all while holding their cell phone just in case something has happened to the ill person who is home alone.
Speaking of that beloved caregiver…why don’t you call them to see if they need a break for the afternoon while you watch the house or the pets (even if the ill person is sleeping and never even knew that you were there)? I bet they would LOVE just a few hours to themselves where they didn’t have to worry about their sick family member. My mother’s life stopped the day that I became so ill and ever since then the world has revolved around taking care of me. No one ever comes to take care of her. In a future post I will tell you about my search for “respite care” when the situation involves a chronically ill, ADULT child being taken care of by their parent. It doesn’t exist.
Lastly, just check in with them, often. Like I have mentioned before, it would be better if you sent emails, used facebook or sent text messages instead of trying to call. A person with Chronic Lyme Disease will often forget to call you back if you have left them a voicemail message but if there is a typed message somewhere, they are likely to check back on those and return a quick note even if they are feeling poorly.
I would also encourage you to just keep sending messages whether you hear back from them or not. I know that in the “real world” people typically wait for this back-and-forth exchange of correspondence before they reach out again but your chronically ill friend is not living in the real world anymore. They don’t know what day it is, they don’t know what time it is, they can’t even remember if you called them or not! Please don’t take these things personally and remember that it is just the disease that has taken over their brain. Remember that your phone call is your way of reaching out to tell your friend that you are thinking of them, that you love them and that they are not alone in this battle that they are fighting.
Truthfully, that is all they really need. YOU.