When we live with chronic illness, either mental or physical, it’s all too often that we have to focus on those who don’t stand by us. Those who we thought were friends (or family), but don’t want to know us now.
Over the years there have been many friends like that. They’re particularly those who didn’t like how I was choosing health treatment options, as if it was up to them.
Then there were those who objected to some of the changes I made in my life. I can give you a whole list of those who run for the hills when I started smoking. My overly enthusiastic drinking was always kept under wraps, so that never gave people the chance to exit stage left. My self harm was also kept under wraps, or at least under my clothes so again, people didn’t have the chance to run. When I stopped going to church, that was another trigger for some to go. Over time, plenty just left. They skulked away presumably just because I was different now.
My ex-husband was one of the first. From outward appearances it seemed that I was the one who left him. I was the one, after all who packed my bags and left the house. My house. But that was only after several conditions that he laid down in front of me. He wanted me to change, or I couldn’t stay. I chose to leave. I think he was surprised (did he think he was that good?), but I guess he got over it.
It’s easy to focus on those people who left. Yes, it hurts very badly. Yes, there were times I wondered if anyone would like me ever again. There were great losses involved when any person who had been close… left.
But actually there were people who stayed. Even when I tried to push them away. While I was hurt by those who weren’t interested in being in my life anymore, strangely those who still wanted to be there, I pushed away. I was scared that if I didn’t push them away, they might choose (after all) to leave.
The first friend who comes to mind, just kept on coming back. I know the choices I made for my life were not hers. I know that some of the choices I made, just made no sense to her. But she kept being there. I know some of the things I came to believe in were not her beliefs. Actually I kept expecting her to walk away. But she didn’t. She kept being there. Nowadays we don’t see each other often, but we can still add up 25 years of friendship. We live in different parts of the country, and to some extent, we have drifted. But I know she would be there if I needed her. And to me, that’s what counts.
The other person who quickly comes to mind has been my friend even longer, and no matter how much I’ve pushed her away across the years, she too, is still there. I remember not wanting to see her when she came to visit me in a psych hospital. Visitors are few and far between in a psych hospital but she kept coming, even though I admit I would fake a headache or something so I didn’t have to see her.
Having done that repeatedly embarrasses me now. It was a long drive to come out to see me, yet I would regularly refuse to see her. It was really about hating myself so much that I couldn’t bear to be seen. I understand that now, but I still don’t know if she understood it. Maybe not. But she continues to be my friend. Again different parts of the country now mean we don’t get to talk often, but we caught up recently and it was great. I felt completely accepted, just as I was. What more could I want?
I don’t have a lot of friends now. Just a few will do. Should I say, I don’t have a lot of what we call ‘real life friends‘. That’s partly been my choice, partly people who have left, and partly something that has come about because of the illness. People leave just because they don’t ‘get it‘. Even ‘internet friends‘ I’m not interested in having hundreds of friends.
What I am interested in having is friends like those above, who I know will stand by me. As cheesy as it sounds I want friends who will be there for me, and will allow me to be there for them. I’m not interested in anything else. I just don’t see the point. Judge me and I’m simply not interested.
I think age helps. In your twenties I get that it’s maybe hard to say a few friends will do. Even harder to be satisfied with staying in on Saturday nights. It’s hard again to have a quiet feed on all social media sites.
When I hurtled violently into the world of mental illness, I was in my twenties. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m not there anymore. Frankly though, I’m glad I’m not. Quantity doesn’t matter so much now, I’d rather have quality, or at least those who will stick around no matter what I hurtle through.
It’s a little bit cheesy now, but it’s true, so here it is…
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen