Chronic Illness, Relationships, and Friendships
Last updated: September 2022
Chronic illnesses can affect relationships and friendships significantly. As a result, many patients with one form of chronic disease or another encounter social problems regularly. The demands imposed on friends and families following a chronic diagnosis led to many intense and long-lasting feelings—exhaustion, fear, guilt, or even resentment. It is also quite common to feel frustrated and sad when you realize your life will never be quite the same again.
Shifting roles and feelings
There is a risk that the bond between you and your partner or other close ones can weaken. Often, chronic illness shifts the balance of a relationship, and the imbalance gets bigger by day as one takes on more responsibilities. As a result, caregivers can become overwhelmed and start feeling resentment. As for the patients, we can feel more like a patient than a partner.
Being sick or ill often pushes you to a place of isolation from your social circle because you are not the same energetic person you used to be, and your close ones may not necessarily understand your new life. All of that can make you feel even worse.
Admittedly, I am no longer the friend I used to be. Friendship changes when you get sick, and that can hurt. Although the idea of self-isolation can be attractive to a shy introvert like me, humans need social interaction and human contact because I believe that humans aren't meant to be on their own.
You discover what real friendship looks like when you're chronically ill. My chronic illness showed me who was there for me and who I could rely on. I learned that the good friends you can have when dealing with a health condition are the ones who can support you as you are. As my illness progressed, my relationships with my dear friends strengthened.
In my case, since I relocated multiple times during my illness, moving from one continent to the other, from one culture to the other, my challenge was to make friends with my chronic health conditions. So, how do you make friends with chronic illness? Thankfully, there are numerous ways to meet new people and grow supportive friendships despite having chronic diseases. Here are a few things I found helpful:
- Expand and strengthen your existing network, including reconnecting with family, old friends, classmates, or even colleagues.
- Connect with other people who suffer from a chronic illness in real life or through social media. These allow one to connect with others on the same boat and their stories.
- Seek and find others who share common interests and hobbies or take on new activities. For instance, you can join online (book) clubs, low-energy group activities, nature walks, public speaking, comedy, and many more!
Pep talk from a friend
Now and then, you may get a pep talk from a friend. I recently got one from my friend after posting this throwback post which I took a few weeks after my LVAD operation. Moments like that make me pause and appreciate the roles of my friends in my success and, in turn, me being helpful and continuing to find ways to be somewhat healthy and positive in life. Here's the pep-talk from my friend:
"It's a lot of stuff you have got on you over there. I can't imagine the patience that it requires. But, of course, it's a miracle that you are here, so that's the biggest thing. That's the most important thing. You've got a lot of life ahead of you. It's holding you back, I'm sure. But, not mentally tough; it doesn't have to.
I think you are doing very well mentally and that you are still a creative person. Your mind is still bright and open, like nothing ever happened. I'm sure the kids help with that. I mean, kids give you another perspective that you almost forgot about. So, just as you are about to forget them, you get those kids of yours, and now they remind you of the other layers to life. So, it's good".
Have you ever avoided going to the doctor out of fear?