Throughout my teenage years, I was a massive fan of the television show ‘Friends’. Not only was the show incredibly funny but I also loved the relationships between the six main characters – their strong bond of friendship and how they were constantly there for each other. However, although the show was entirely fictitious, I also found myself feeling envious of the close friendship as; unfortunately, I had none of my own after my so-called friends abandoned when symptoms, especially the dizziness started interfering with my everyday life. There is nothing like a diagnosis of a neurological condition, or any other chronic illness to show who your real friends are. After leaving university and entering adulthood, the problems regarding friendships have not improved. Many friends that I have made, unfortunately no longer in contact with me; despite my attempts to do so. This is something that has hurt me deeply over the years, especially as I thought of them as close friends. I am not sure the reasons behind the now lack of contact – the reason may lie in their own prejudices towards my conditions, or perhaps they failed to understand the reasons behind my inability to go out to places that I find uncomfortable and can precipitate an attack of vertigo. Whatever the reason, however, it hurts deeply and has often led to a decrease in self-esteem and self-confidence as a result. In my last blog post, I write how many of my symptoms have recently worsened and furthermore how I have struggled both physically and emotionally because of the sudden deterioration. What has also made it harder is the loneliness and isolation that I have felt when in the house during this period. It is during these times that I wished that I had friends living close by that could pop by for lunch or to take me out to distract me from my severe symptoms and make me feel that I am less alone in my struggles with living with this condition.
Although I may have a distinct lack of friends living nearby, I have however made a lot of friends online that although the distance between us is significant, they should not be excluded from this discussion into friendships and chronic illness. These friendships that I have developed online through the blog and social media have come to mean so much, as they too also experience chronic illness or other long-term chronic conditions and therefore understand exactly what it is like to live with them and thus gives support like no other.
Furthermore, by using tags and hashtags on social media such as the term ‘spoonie’ (a person who is living with a chronic illness or chronic pain) is not only fantastic at connecting with others going through similar experiences but also makes us feel that we are part of a community. A fact that is important as due to our conditions we often feel excluded in other areas of life.
And it is thanks to these online friendships that I now feel that I have people outside my family that actually care about me. It has also led to the feeling that I am worthy of such friendships (as I have been burned by many people in the past, I often felt that there was something wrong with me, or was not worthy of friendships).
It is surprising that these online relationships can develop into such strong and meaningful friendships. For many of us living with long-term health conditions, or conditions which prevent us, or makes it difficult for us from getting out into the community we know that it is these friendships that are so important to us and makes life living with illness a little easier.
In my experiences, I have often found that the friends whom I have met online actually keep in contact with me, or even cares more about me than the people who are in my real-life existence. A favourite saying of mine is “Friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you always know that they’re there…” and it is certainly true regarding my fellow chronically ill friends. Just because I don’t see them, it does not make the friendship any the less relevant or real – what is important, however, is that they continually are there for me during my struggles and even through the good; and also that they show concern and support when I need it.
So, what if it comes through a computer screen instead of face-to-face interaction, isn’t the fact that we have made a connection with another person the most important point? But perhaps there are ways which I can develop these friendships further – maybe by swapping phone numbers with friends I have made online. Or start using Skype as a means of keeping in contact with people may be a start in gaining support when I am in need, and to also give support for when I am required to support someone else in need?
So, I am interested – what are your experiences of friendships and life with chronic illness? Have you still managed to maintain friendships with those in your real-life existence? Or do you rely on friendships that have developed through online communication? Love to hear your thoughts and comments on this subject so please don’t hesitate by getting in touch by commenting below or even getting in contact via social media (links can be found by clicking the icons at the top of the page).