Maintaining friendships with a chronic illness.
I have decided to take a break in documenting my diagnosis story to talk about something else. Writing about my endo has shown me just how much this illness has affected my relationships with others. Whether that be friends, family or my partner. I know it sounds silly to only just be really thinking about this, but I very much try to live in the moment, tackling the current challenge and get to the end of that particular day, so i often don’t consider the long term changes I have made because of endometriosis.
A few months ago I came across Christine Miserandino’s ‘Spoons’ Theory. The idea uses twelve spoons as means to measure the effort and toll a task will have on a person with a disability or chronic illness. Said person would have a finite number of spoons to use each day, and they must decide how to use them accordingly. For example getting out of bed and taking a shower might cost you three spoons, going to work might cost you five and making dinner might cost you a further two.
For someone suffering with chronic pain this can mean on a bad day or during a flare up simple tasks can cost far more spoons than on a good day. It’s a great way of explaining your condition and its constraints to those that may not understand, for example why you were able to go to work and the pub after yesterday but can’t seem to leave your bed today. It really illustrates the bargaining we have to do with our bodies on a regular basis, perhaps neglecting one task to ensure another is completed. It’s also a great tool when negotiating with yourself what you should and shouldn’t be pushing yourself to do that day. It’s very easy to guilt yourself into commitments and social obligations at the detriment of your health. I’ll often have to tell myself “Say no, I’m out of spoons!”
This constant negotiating with myself takes its toll on my relationships. I’ve always considered myself a very social person, with a large number of friends and an active social life. Thing is, endo really doesn’t care about all that. I’ve gone from someone who almost always says yes to someone who says no… an awful lot of the time. Friendships have suffered.
There’s only so many times you can decline an invite or cancel on someone at the last second before your friendship with that person is affected. This isn’t me being self deprecating. This is a reality of friendships, some last some don’t. Not all are meant to be there forever, some are there during a particular phase in your life and some simply don’t stand the test of time.
What it has meant, is I have gone from having many different friendships to really only have a handful of close ones. The friends in my life now have to contend with me not being able to be the sort of friend I was before. Our friendships have adapted, whether that’s having a cuppa at home instead of a night out or accepting my radio silence for a few weeks when things get bad.
Over time I’ve found certain things that make dealing with all of this easier. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, but they’ve helped and currently help me maintain my friendships and stay sane during the process.
Always try to be open. People genuinely appreciate honesty. My logic here being, telling a friend the truth will do one of two things to your friendship. Either it will bring a better understanding between the two of you and your friend will feel respected in the process, or… actually I’ve only ever experienced one outcome. Seriously being honest with your friends about your health is only ever a good thing in my book.
Be fair to your friends. No one is perfect. No one gets it right everytime. A friend might not completely understand the nature of your chronic illness. Whether that means they question why you’re not better already, or they get frustrated or upset about the constraints it puts upon you and them. This isn’t me saying we should accept friends not behaving like friends, but just reiterating no one (ever) gets it right everytime. If you and your friend can learn and your friendship adapt then it’s one worth keeping.
Lastly and most importantly, be kind to yourself. I’m far.more forgiving of those around me than I am myself and this is something I’m trying to work on. Being kind to yourself can mean allowing yourself to miss social obligations, not pick up the phone or even accept when you’re just not going to make it into work that day. My way around this struggle is to think what I would say to another person in this same situation. Would I bully them into meeting that friend even if they couldn’t get out of bed all day… probably not. So put yourself first (when you can) which will always allow you then to be a better friend.
Here’s a link to a little more to Christine Miserandino’s ‘Spoons’ Theory if ya interested. https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/