In Sickness and in Health: 5 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About Friendship and Illness

Several months ago, I received a thoughtful email from a reader of this blog who asked me to write a blog post that helped people like her-- people who have chronic pain or illness-- to figure out how to make and keep friends when their energy and health often feels limited, challenged, or uncertain. Not entirely sure I felt qualified to give tips to this heroic population, I asked her if first she'd be willing to share, from her perspective, what she wishes the rest of us understood about our friends (or potential friends) whose health issues might impact how we befriend each other.  With nearly 1 in 2 of us suffering from some form of chronic (often invisible) illness, we all want to become far more sensitive and thoughtful in how we interact with one another.

Thank you Lucy Smith (pseudonym) for taking the time and energy to share with us what you've learned since being diagnosed a couple of years ago with a debilitating neurological condition.  Her ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult. She knows she's not alone as she's found some connection with others in similar situations and I'm so grateful she's excited to get a conversation started with this blog post.

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Amazing Moms Make Time for Friends

What memories do you have of your mom doing things with her friends?

Years ago, in a specific friendship workshop I used to lead, I would ask adult women to write down everything they could remember about their moms and the topic of friendship:

  • Who did she hang out with, that you remember? Did she have her own friends or was it more about getting together with other families?
  • Do you remember her going away for weekends with friends? If so, what did she say to you about those weekends away? Do you remember seeing photos?
  • Do you remember her going out for girls nights often? What would they go do? Who went with her?
  • Can you remember any advice or comments she ever made about friendships?  Hers? Or yours? Or just in general?
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The Verdict: Can Men and Women Be Close Friends?

We have our own personal stories that count as evidence for most of us:  If our best friend is a guy then we cheer on others, convinced they can enjoy these friendships, too; but if we've had a friendship end after awkward confessions of love or after one gets married then we seem convicted to whisper caution.

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The Cost of the Constant Catch-Up Cycle

Lunch with a friend? Yeah it was okay.... nothing amazing. Phone call with a friend? Glad we got that out-of-the-way for another 2 months....

Dinner with an out-of-town friend? Meh.

She's texting me to see when we can get together next?  hmmm.... three weeks from now is fine.

For many, the time with our friends isn't all that meaningful and amazing.  I mean it feels good to know we got together and caught up, but it's not like we're clearing our calendar in excitement for our next get-together.  We feel good about ourselves for keeping up with them, but it's hard to always be sure it's worth the extra money spent on drinks or the time away from ______ (the kids, the TV series you're currently bingeing, or the hot romance).

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