I love participating in WEGO Health’s twitter chats (follow @wegohealth on twitter to check it out). And each time, no matter what the topic that week is, the subject of losing friends seems to always come up. Chronic illness, whether physical or mental, tends to encroach on our social lives and that can bring out the worst in people. We don’t want to cancel plans or spend all of our time talking about our illness, but when we do, it would be nice to be met with understanding. Unfortunately, it can often break a friendship or even a romantic relationship.
Sometimes one too many cancellations causes a friend to give up on hanging out with you. Sometimes one too many suggestions to “think positively” or “try yoga” or “maybe if you just…” causes you to hit the unfriend button. Sometimes, after an awkward encounter with your illness, a friend or loved one “ghosts” you, falling off the face of the earth. Maybe they can’t deal with facing the idea of mortality when they see an incurable illness. Maybe their desire to “fix” you has made you feel unloved or unvalued, because as much as our illnesses don’t define us, they’re still a part of us. Maybe it was simply more baggage than they signed up for when they decided to be your friend/significant other.
It’s harsh. But it’s also true. Sometimes, people just suck.
A while back, I wrote a post on the story of Job, specifically looking at misguided attempts at “comforting” friends in hard times. Job is a bible story I think many people with chronic illness can relate to, and there’s verses that apply to losing friends as well.
Check out these excerpts from Job 19:
“He has alienated my family from me;
my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
My relatives have gone away;
my closest friends have forgotten me…”
“My breath is offensive to my wife;
I am loathsome to my own family…”
“All my intimate friends detest me;
those I love have turned against me.”
When we go through something really tough, like an illness, sometimes it feels like everyone abandons you right at the moment you need them the most. Loved ones may be visibly drained by your experience, making you feel like a burden. When you stay home ill, it’s easy to feel forgotten. Illness is alienating. Healthy friends don’t know how you feel, and maybe you don’t know how they feel, either.
A more modern quotation that captures this can be found in the song “People Just Ain’t No Good” by Nick Cave.
“It ain’t that in their hearts they’re bad.
They can comfort you, some even try.
They nurse you when you’re ill of health.
They bury you when you go and die.
They’d stick by you if they could.
Aw but that’s just bull, baby.
People just ain’t no good.”