Of course, dealing with the finicky nature of a dysfunctional human body is apparently not enough. In addition to the unforgiving body you are operating in, you have friends, family, and coworkers who are already near their threshold of ‘dealing with your crap’. Not that they don’t care. They can care quite a bit about you. But a relationship requires some give and take, and it can feel to them that they are not often on the receiving side. When coworkers have to cover your shifts, when friends have to constantly give you rides, and when family feels it can never ask for favors, only dole them out, that can be wearing. It takes good, kind, and uncommonly patient individuals to recognize the special qualities a chronically ill person can bring to the table.
When I get something as simple as a cold, I panic. I know that even if I take my medications, am religious with vitamins and supplements, I will almost certainly get bronchitis. It’s part of having asthma. But that’s not all I panic about—in the back of my head, I worry about the people I love and interact with and wonder, ‘Is this going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?’ I’ve cashed in too many favors, broken too many commitments, they’re going to be done with me.
I hate thinking that way. I hate how often I look at my friendships and look at myself as a burden. I try to focus on my helpful qualities that make me a valued friend—that I’m a good listener, am accepting, patient, and have a strong desire to help. That I’m goofy and relaxed and will always try to make the ordinary more fun. But I cannot help but worry. I look at my relationships like I look at my body—that a common illness or flare up is going to tip it over the edge.
This kind of anxiety does not help anything or anyone though. I know it may be easy to say that, but when something unexpected happens, it can be hard to actually feel that way. To be calm about what’s happening and not look at it as ‘the last straw’. But I’ve begun to wonder though, if maybe that kind of thinking is what makes it ‘the last straw’.
If I’m really honest with myself, that sort of thinking is selfish. It automatically assumes what people in my life feel, what they can and can’t handle, and what they need. It assigns and projects my feelings onto the people around me. And rather than trying to do something about that feeling, it is sort of a surrendering attitude that precludes any efforts to help the situation. And it is a way to protect myself from feeling disappointed.
People have, in the past, gotten sick of being around ‘someone sick’ and punished me for a situation I cannot help (and would give anything to change). I have lost friends, been bullied, and been shut out. I try my best not to hold too much anger and bitterness against the friends who could not handle my situation. They were not strong enough. And they could not see my efforts to counterbalance the strain that my illness put on our relationship.
On the bright side, the friends that I have years in, the associations that I’ve formed now, have stood many tests that my illness can put on relationship. I know that they are real. And I owe myself and the people in my life a chance to be tested by the challenges my body brings. Not only do I owe them trust when I am feeling sick, but I should be giving them extra love, attention, and effort when I am feeling well. Not solely because I am ‘setting the balance’, but because I am happy to have a chance to show them the same care and attention they give me when I need it.
I think people who are ill feel this anxiety with relationships that there is a balance, like a bank account, and they are constantly overdrawing. But no one likes to feel like a favor bank--and that is exactly how friends feel when you constantly worry over this 'balance'. Just be a good friend, a good coworker, a good family member. When you are sick, feeling blah, feeling good, and when you are ill. Needing extra help does not make you a bad friend. It can be hard to remember, but people who understand your condition know what they are getting into when they decide to associate with you. And if you do not give them the opportunity to support you in your time of need... then you’re not really trusting them to be your friend, are you?
I have a lot of people in my life that I choose to be close to. And while many of them may be sick of my sickness, I don’t feel like they’re sick of me.