This is the 3rd post in our 3-part series on friendships with those who suffer with chronic pain and illness. The first one, written by Lucy Smith (pseudonym) shared her experience with us after having been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological condition. She bravely wrote what she wishes her friends understood about friendship with someone who feels sick or limited. The second one, I weighed in with tips and principles I think are important for those trying to make friends while in pain. And this final one, is again written by Lucy Smith as she shares her tips, from personal experience, about what she;s learned about making new friends even when limited by her health.
Your situations are all so very different, please take anything that speaks to you, and add your own tips to the comments. It will inspire all of us to see what others are trying and finding helpful! Above all we applaud everyone who dares to connect their hearts, especially when their bodies resist in any way. xoxo
4 Tips From Someone Who Knows The Journey, By Lucy Smith
- Create Some Friendships With Others Who "Get It." Finding people with similar struggles in a support group is often a great place to start. That might be a support group for those living with chronic illness, a local disease-specific group (i.e. the National Multiple Sclerosis Society support group), or maybe some people who were on the periphery of your social network who have had medical challenges that you couldn't relate to before. In some cases, you might not find those networks you were looking for waiting for you. In that case, it may be worth creating a Meetup group or some other forum where you can bring people together in the way you were seeking. This doesn't always need to be a big time or energy suck - it might be as simple as stating that the group will be meeting a the coffee shop at 10:00 am on the 4th Saturday of the month and showing up for several months as momentum builds.
- Initiate and follow-through, as much as possible. Once you've got a pool of potential new friends, try to follow (as much as you are able) Shasta's normal advice for cultivating new friends: those are the ingredients of a healthy relationship and even if we feel unhealthy, we still want our friendships to be healthy! That means take initiative when you can and have those "open hands" as people with a lot of their plates may not be able to commit as often or may not be able to follow through when the time comes. Though a friend will understand occasionally when you aren't up to getting together as planned, if canceling and rejection is the only interaction you have, that friend may grow weary of making the effort to reach out, even if she understands the circumstances, and may defer to not reaching out but instead waiting for you to make the effort when you are up to it.
- Cultivate fun and joy: If you can get a regular group who understands your challenges, work on growing towards cultivating fun and joy where possible through activities that are not illness specific. Certainly it is great to update each other on your challenges and wins, medical and otherwise, but cultivating activities that aren't centered around the narrowness of illness allows you to reclaim part of your whole self.
- Receive, Say Yes, and Appreciate: And for those of us who are sick, it is helpful for us to remember to try to show up on our side when we are lucky enough to have a friend who is willing to stick by us during difficult times. Allowing others to help you is a gift to the person who is offering to help - both to receive the help and to maintain connection. We may need to work on being open to receive the gift. You may repeatedly turn down offers to get together and get out or even to have someone come visit you or bring a meal because you aren't feeling as well as you wished. Maybe you don't want to be seen when you aren't feeling well, or you haven't showered, changed out of your PJs, and put your make-up on. Instead of feeling embarrassed about this, it is helpful to remember that you've got a true friend who is putting in the extra effort to show up when things are hard and that she doesn't care much about the shower, PJs, and make-up, but rather she cares about you. Say yes to that.
Thank you Lucy! I appreciate you reaching out and being a catalyst for this conversation, and for sharing some of your energy with us in such an inspirational and informative way!
And I hope many more of you chime in on the comments! What tips do you have?