Losing Friends to Chronic Illness

By Jorie

A few months ago, I found myself upset over my social life. I walked into the bedroom where Trey, my fiancé, was lying on the bed watching The Office. “I need to snuggle,” I said, climbing onto the bed and nuzzling against him.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, as I started to sob fiercely and couldn’t get a single word out.

“My old friends…” I choked through thick tears. “I’ve lost them. They’ve forgotten me. They don’t want me. My chronic illness has robbed me of my friends, finally.”

“Well… that’s life, he said nonchalantly. I knew he was trying to keep serious about the situation, but his words did nothing to console my emotions at the time.

I had hit “the moment” that so many of us with chronic illness face: my friends were “officially” doing the BIG things without me. Weddings, baby showers, house-warmings, all the “adult” things that we were supposed to all enjoy together. But now it was all… except for me.

Trey assured me that wasn’t the case, that my chronic illness wasn’t the only reason for this. And he’s right, it’s not. But it’s a sobering feeling to know that your chronic illness has contributed to your drifting away from friends who were once like family, who you once never went a day without seeing or at least talking to.

Your “people.”

Obviously, some of “my people” really aren’t my people anymore.

And after grieving it for a while, I’ve come to realize that… hey, life goes on, and things aren’t all bad, even while living with multiple disabling chronic illnesses. I have some amazing NEW friends I’ve made through my passion of advocacy. I have a wonderful fiancé (almost husband!). My family, for the most part, is supportive and loving. I’m still holding down a job even if I’m on medical leave and working from home. I have a solid roof over my head, good food to eat, and all the other things one should have going for them by age 25.

Repeat after me: Life is not bad just because a few old friends have moved on. Your life is not defined by your quantity of friends, but rather, quality.

They also probably didn’t forget me, per se, it just so happened that our paths one day, who knows when, stopped crossing and the meaning behind our relationship fizzled out. We didn’t see each other daily anymore. We don’t relate to each other anymore. I still care about these people a lot. But are we close friends? The simple answer is: No.

Nonetheless, the moment you realize this truth about your life with chronic illness, it feels like a punch to the gut. All the feelings I had gathered in my gut that night as I scrolled through Facebook, looking fondly at all the exciting photos of my old friends, having fun together… without me. Keyword.

But without me doesn’t mean they don’t care anymore or even forgot me. It just means that the strength of our friendship isn’t what it used to be. As the adulty-er adults like to say, “life goes on.” Things change. Friends drift apart.

And now… It’s finally happening… to ME!

Truth is, I couldn’t be happier for these old friends. They’re making golden memories and they’re going through some of the biggest milestones of their lives. Joyful, magnificent, wonderful moments. I may not be a part of them in person, but I can be happy for them from behind the screen and a couple hundred or thousand miles away.

Even in my sadness, I’ve found the ability to reflect on the situation. I’ve found peace with the fact that my old friends are just that—old friends. I cherish our memories and the time we got to spend together, but now I’ve got to move on, too. I’m in a new chapter of my life, as they are in theirs.

Trey reminded me that I have many new friends to be thankful for. He’s exactly right: I do! I’ve made a lot of new, amazing friends in the past 5 or maybe more years that I am so incredibly blessed to have. And, even better, I DO still have some of my old friends who are still good friends who I cherish just as much. We may not talk as often or see each other as much because of distance, but our friendship is still there all the same.

But please hear me out: if you have old friends who have moved on from you for one reason or another, and you haven’t found it within you to let them go: please let go now. Don’t let old friends drag you down. Don’t let them make you feel bad about your chronic illnesses. Don’t let social media posts make you feel inferior.

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” as the Theodore Roosevelt once said. Your opinion of yourself is the only one that matters.

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