It's impossible not to assume your relationships, romantic or otherwise, will change in living with a chronic illness. For starters, YOU have changed; whether you choose to accept it or not. You will find your tolerance for certain types of people and/or behaviour has changed, and often that means that the places in which there was previously room in your life for certain people/nonsense has been filled with other, more dramatic but decidedly less fun stuff.
There will be friends, and other members of your intimate circle (and intimate circles will become a BIG DEAL henceforth), that will start to drift away. They won’t be able to cope with having a ‘sick’ friend. They won’t understand, or perhaps even try, and that’s ok.
It really is.
Or at least it will be. At first it will be pretty traumatic and it will feel as though it’s your fault. It’s you pushing them away with your illness, it’s you constantly complaining, it’s you cancelling plans, and it’s you who can’t talk about anything else but sickness.
IT’S NOT YOU.
What’s happening to your mind and body from the onset of illness is heart-breaking and out of your control. It’s a time of massive change in your life and it’s possibly a bridge too far in terms of lifestyle modifications for some people on the outside to deal with.
I’ve been told by ‘friends’ that I’m ‘playing the Crohn’s card’ when I’m too unwell to socialise or have to leave a party early. I’ve been left out of certain events because it’s been assumed I wouldn’t want to attend or would be too unwell. Let me say that this is not (always) done out of selfishness, it’s generally kindness or just a lack of ability to find the right words. There of course is a fine line when it comes to friendship with a chronically ill person – it’s not all on you as the friend; it’s about communication and showing you are open to adapting your own plans occasionally to allow us to feel a little more comfortable.
Of course, 99% of us don’t actually WANT to be ill, and want to enjoy life to the full like we did pre-disease, but it’s just not always possible. (The 1% there is left open for hypochondriacs and/or those who revel in misery for reasons unknown to me). There are things you can no longer do, despite your best efforts, and activities you can no longer be a part of. That’s frustrating and upsetting in most cases, but in the main it’s a long and arduous process of acceptance in learning what you can do. Let me make it clear – if you think it’s hard on you when we can’t meet you for drinks/ dancing/ intercourse/ breaking into banks, it’s even harder for us.
It’s depressing and emotionally debilitating when our bodies stop us from being around the people we love. But in my years of living with sickness, I’ve come to realise the importance of self-care. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about you as our loved ones, and your needs, because we really do. We just learn to prioritise. And knowing if you have two shots one night that you’ll then be incapacitated for the next 48hrs, isn’t fun. (Anymore).
Believe me, if you know how it feels to be hungover, imagine that but with diseased intestines thrown into the mix; the worst internal-cocktail known to man. And I’ve eaten a deep fried Mars Bar.