How chronic illness shapes your social life

themighty1I have always been a pretty energetic person. Any one of my friends can tell you that I get bored easily and crave variety. Before I got sick I packed the gaps in my busy schedule with social activities. I would rest when I needed to, but I would pick making memories with friends over sitting in bed watching Hulu any day.

Chronic illness has transformed my daily life in many ways, but its impact on my social life is something that I could not have predicted. Dealing with physical pain, rising medical costs, and fatigue on a daily basis is very taxing, but engaging in my social life despite all these things is an entirely different challenge.

As a young professional moving to another city and starting a new job, one of my priorities has been to make friends in my area.  I have connected with some great people already, but it’s hard to invest the time needed to cultivate friendships when one has a very finite amount of stamina. While I used to be filled with boundless energy after a long day, now I basically crash on the couch as soon as I get home. Sometimes I don’t even have enough energy to make myself dinner, so driving 30+ minutes to hang out with friends is usually not possible for me.

Another strain that chronic illness has put on my social life is that I’m always cancelling plans. I HATE feeling like I’m being a flake, but I now find myself writing a lot of emails and texts that start with “I’m so sorry to cancel on you at the last minute, but…” I’ve had to adopt an attitude of self acceptance to cope with the fact that I’m now that friend who bails at the last minute. I have to tell myself that most people wouldn’t feel bad about cancelling an obligation if they were facing stabbing chest pain, fainting spells, or flu-like symptoms–so I should forgive myself–but this is often easier said than done.

I also have to make adjustments in how I socialize. For example, I don’t agree to long outdoor activities where it would be difficult for me to leave whenever my energy is depleted (like hiking). I don’t prefer to go to crowded bars or restaurants anymore, as I can easily get sensory overload. I also rarely leave the house on work nights because I know I’ll have an energy hangover later. Dealing with these restrictions is definitely not something I enjoy, but it’s helped strengthen many of my relationships. Having so many limitations placed on your quality time means that the relationships you are actually able to invest time in are of value. These are the people who are willing to really love me–incurable chronic illness and all–and I’m blessed to have them in my life.

If you are able-bodied, please understand that your chronically ill loved ones haven’t forgotten about you! It’s just that socializing has developed into one of our laundry list of daily challenges, and sometimes going out for drinks after work can become the straw that broke the camel’s back. Know the amount of time your chronically ill friends spend with you is not proportionate to their love for you.

If you are chronically ill, seek people in your life who won’t mind that you can’t eat most of the foods at their favorite restaurant, or can’t go out after 8pm because you’ll die from exhaustion afterwards. The real friends will be there regardless, helping you with tasks or sending you encouragement when you’re laid up in bed with a heating pad and downing as many ibuprofen as you can. Keep looking for them.

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