Friendships Through the Web of Chronic Illness: Through Thick and Thin

December 21, 2016

People are messy. If you’ve ever raised a toddler you’re most likely nodding your head and offering me a hearty “amen!” However, I’m talking about a different kind of messy. The sort that implies we humans are not always simple, drama-free, uncomplicated, or easy to understand beings.

Perhaps you have experienced this “messiness” in your friendships as you navigate the highs and lows of chronic illness and rare disease. You love your friends, but you don’t always love how they respond in your time of need. You adore your people, but you wonder if perhaps, they might be available to come down off their high horse any time soon and give you a hug?

In general, I’ve found my friends have a myriad of responses to my ailments and illnesses. There are:

  • The drifters: These friends might be what your parents would have called “fair weather” friends. Whatever the reason, they aren’t equipped to cope with the magnitude of your pain. They scatter like roaches when the lights come on when things get serious. Maybe they don’t know what to say, feel triggered by your circumstance, or simply don’t have what you need available to invest at this time in their lives, so they vanish.
  • The coaches: These friends can’t understand why you feel the need to talk about your illness so much. They’re perplexed by why you can’t do the things you once could. They continue to pressure you to do things you’ve told them over and over again your body can’t do. They’ve never faced anything remotely similar to what you’re going through nor taken the time to learn about your illness(es). Yet, they feel it is their job to coach you on how you should handle your circumstances. They tell you how you should and shouldn’t feel, what you’re doing wrong, and when the doctor they’ve never met is missing it.
  • The keepers: These friends are in it with you through thick and thin. Their hearts break to see you hurting. They constantly ask, “What can I do for you? How can I help?” Your grief and processing are met with love and not judgment. They love you on your worst days just as much as your best. They meet you with practical help whenever possible and go out of their way to let you know that you are seen and your story matters. These friends carry you through the darkest days of your life.

Illness can be the great “friend sifter” and while I wouldn’t wish illness on anyone, this friend sifting doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Knowing who is in our corner for the long haul and who we can count on when it really matters is a gift.

We all reach a point in our lives where we no longer wish to invest in fruitless relationships. Illness pushes us to this point much faster. We no longer have the energy to invest in relationships that lack depth and staying power. Now, it’s all about quality vs. quantity. All we really need are a few friends we can count on when things get hard. And honestly, do we have the emotional energy to nurture many deep relationships? Probably not.

So what about you? How do you balance illness and the “messiness” of relationship? Have you had more “drifters” or “keepers”?


About Stacey

photo-225x300Stacey is an author, goofball and avid reader. You can find her blog at where she endeavors to encourage other warriors like herself along in their journey of battling for health and discovering wholeness. She is mom to Hayden and Avery, stepmom to Julie and wife to Ryan (a smarty pants who works at NASA and logs their whole life on spreadsheets and pie charts, true story!) She has a strange affinity for eating whole meals in bed (don’t tell anyone) and is convinced smelling old books will make her smarter.

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