Unfortunately there is a pattern for the chronically ill a lot of us can agree on. Friendships can fizzle out when you become sick.
I did a live Q&A for a facebook group Rheumatoid Arthritis Support and was alarmed over the amount of other RA patients asked if I lost any friends after my diagnosis because they had. That question resonated with me on a personal level as yes, I lost some and still today it bugs me as I miss having friends or even family around but I realize my life has taken a different path and I have to be positive about it. I have to move on and look forward to what the future has to hold.
This won't happen to everyone who becomes sick. Everyone is different and everyone has a different story to tell. Although I commonly hear of people becoming loners very quickly after their diagnosis. I decided to embrace it rather than dwell on it though. For my own sanity, chronic illness is lonely.
I wasn't always the sick girl. I had a sort of normal life. I had friends and I went out a lot, to some I was considered popular or a scene queen in the local heavy metal scene. Concerts were my thing or the occasional party. With my kid at his Dads on weekends, I would attend one or two shows a weekend or go out with friends. At the beginning of my diagnosis I was rather well known for my heavy metal merchandise producing business for my "rockstar" boyfriend's band. Once I closed my business because just I couldn't keep up when RA really became aggressive in me and as the depression tormented me. Friendships disappeared, some made fun of me, some were there, then slowly some fizzled away. Some overnight, some over time.
At first I spent so much effort to try and avoid losing friends. But the sicker I got, the more I realized I need to focus on myself, not those that wouldn't be there for me. I appreciate the friends I do have, that come over for tea or are willing to watch my kid so I can rest or go to the doctors. I really don't know how I would have done anything without a few of my friends.
I Became Sober
I no longer drink alcohol, I don't touch recreational drugs and I can barely stay up past 9 pm without the need of energy drinks. When I stopped drinking a lot of my drinking buddies also stopped calling. The thing was to go to the bar where bands were playing or a music fest. I was always going to concerts. I drank at them, shows get pretty rowdy. My arthritis doesn't like rowdy. I stopped drinking because it made me feel sick every time, drinking was no longer fun. Now I get asked why I go to shows if I don't drink or party. Because I like the music. I had hoped the people I spent so much of my free time with would have been there even if alcohol wasn't involved but it seems to be a common occurrence. Friendships fizzle out when you go sober.
My friends weren't interested in doing things with my kid and me. They were broke from drinking too much each weekend and going to shows. They didn't drive so an adventure was out of the question. They had plans, usually to drink that weekend already. They weren't really interested in day time hang outs which was slowly starting to become all I could handle.
There were several odd reactions from people in my social circle about my health that left me questioning them as a friend. It was the zero response to my health issues, ever. What I didn't get was the people I called friends, the ones who came to every birthday of mine for the past 8 years, the ones who came to my baby shower, that drank with me at every show, never once acknowledged that Arthritis tore my life apart. Now don't get me wrong, I don't want a sea of empathy but really?!?!?! I guess people can be really cold or it makes them uncomfortable? Imagine how uncomfortable it would be for us living with it! Some compassion and empathy can go a long way. That one is just weird to me. Also can happen when you meet someone, they won't respond when you tell them your illness. So awkward.
If You Ever Need Something, Just Ask
The friends who I was turning to in trust were my drinking, show buddies buddies or scene girls. I saw them mostly every weekend at a party, bar or a show. We commented on each other statuses with words of endearment and countless times they told me they would be there for me if I ever needed anything. But when the life got real, and it got very real, they got too busy. Then I was too needy, then I was too angry. Sometimes people will offer help but when it actually comes to it they can get almost defensive as to why you need the help and get too busy. They may feel compelled to offer help but when they can't or realize how much effort help actually is they pan out, sometimes completely.
I was particularly hurt by the rumors of me lying about my illness and what I was doing with the money that was given to me with my Gofundme. However when you live with an illness that is not seen, like Arthritis, you are going to get people who will be skeptical about you really being sick. That's partially why I became an Invisible Illness advocate. I really don't care to go through that again and I got tired of people not listening how bad Arthritis really is. Stomping my feet and being so open about the disease has put an end to that some what in my life. However if you don't look sick, people will question your illness. And they don't realize they sometimes only see you at your very best or that point when you become really good at holding it all in.
I Became Angry.
When I realized I was going through the anger stage of the grief of being diagnosed with a chronic illness I was able to calm myself down a bit. I can't stress enough how common it seems to be for people to get angry on the medications and what happens in their lives, give us a break sometimes, especially shortly after our diagnosis. We need to go through the grieving process of being diagnosed with a life changing debilitating disease. What I didn't get was why they couldn't understand why I was angry? I wanted a friend, I was diagnosed with a severe illness, going through crazy side effects, a nervous breakdown and trying to care for a child. I had way too many servings on my shattered plate. Friends who understood what I was going through still stood behind me. Otherwise some people want you to be positive and happy all the time!
Their Perfect World Won't Allow Misery
Yeah, these ones can pretty much screw right off anyways. The when the going gets tough they run for the hills or won't allow someone in their life that has adversity. They don't want my bad vibe to rub off on their perfect world. This can happen to anyone, get over yourself. I am still a person. You won't catch Arthritis being my friend or even getting to know me.
The Friends Who Stole From Me
I had a friend of 14 years steal from my bank account when they offered to help me out and I in turn was helping them out with a place to stay for a few months. What they did almost had my son and I evicted from my apartment. Ever since this happened I have had a hard time trusting people in my life again. I know not everyone is a bad apple, I know drugs will make people do some unimaginable things, but trust is still hard when you become the victim of this type end to a friendship.
The Change In Me
My life is about being a Mother, my health and my advocacy. I don't have really much of anything in common with my old friends or the old me. I went from making black and death metal merchandise to trying to raise money for charity and disability rights. It wasn't until I told myself that did I feel slightly better about how lonely chronic illness suddenly made me. I still have friends, a son, a boyfriend, my father. But nothing will fill the pit that being healthy once filled. My life may be more fulfilled now, I still grieve my old life at times. I was healthy.