Being sick is hard. There are many times when I look at my life, at all the joys I’ve had to forgo and the thankless work I put in to simply make it through the day, and I wish I could change it all. I wish I could have energy, that I could eat whatever foods I want and socialize without crashing. The list of wishes and grief feels endless in those weeks when I’ve been slogging through a flare with no end in sight. I need to turn to my sick friends who understand.
But when I’m on an upswing, there are times when I actually wouldn’t change it. I am who I am because of illness. I am proud of my disabilities and the creativity I’ve built by having to work with them. Years of pain gave me a deep pool of empathy. Perhaps the greatest side effect of illness is the people I’ve met.
Sick friends have been an incredible support network for me and have become some of my best friends They get me on so many levels. They have empathy to match mine but have had to learn boundaries out of self-preservation. They are some of the best communicators I’ve met, whether by necessity or as a by-product of the therapy prescribed by doctors. And the communities of sick and disabled folks I’ve found myself in have been loving, warm, and supportive.
In recognition of these incredible spoonies, I’d like to share with you the top 5 reasons why I love my sick friends with the hope that this can help you find a support network of your own:
I always had trouble making friends. I don’t know whether it was feeling different than my peers or the shame I carried from my symptoms being deemed “disgusting” by those who discovered them. Maybe it was just my extreme introversion. Whatever the reason, that feeling of true connection often evaded me. I revel in my sick friends today who seem to just get me. They know so much about my experience without me having to explain. I share a story and see their heads nod in understanding. My sick friends have all felt isolated at some point, so they are eager to make connections and are expressive of their appreciation for my friendship.
2. Honest communication
Another reason I connect so much easier with sick friends is that I can communicate more honestly with them. You know that feeling when someone asks “How are you?” and your brain is screaming “Honestly, not so good!” but what comes out of your mouth is “Good! You?” Few moments make me feel more isolated than when I feel terrible but tell someone I’m fine. I love sick friends who just cut to the chase and say it how it really is. Not that they dump heavy stuff on me without warning (I’ve discussed the importance of finding the right space for sharing the heavy stuff here), but they are often more honest from moment to moment. One friend’s response when asked “How are you?” tends to be “Everything is terrible and I’m dying. How are you today?” We laugh and acknowledge that yes, things are really tough. We can then choose whether to dig into why it’s tough or just move on with our day.
Any struggle in life creates space in your brain to understand the struggles of others. I often find that sick friends are oozing with empathy. They know pain, fear, isolation, stigmatization, and discrimination. They can see it in others and the world around them. As a result, they are kind and caring. They stand up for others (when energy permits) and can reach beyond the differences that too often divide us.
If practice makes perfect, then facing daily barriers makes extremely proficient problem solvers. Being chronically ill can cause problems as minor as finding crackers in the grocery aisle with no added chemicals to getting the care you need when semi-conscious, alone, and in the care of an ER team who’s never heard of your diagnoses. While we’d rather not have to face these challenges, it can lead to some incredible resourcefulness and critical thinking skills. When something goes wrong with my house, my job, my relationships… I call on my sick friends to help me think it through. We don’t easily throw up our hands and decide it can’t be fixed because, so often in our experience, that simply isn’t an option.
5. Access intimacy
I came across the term access intimacy recently and it’s my absolute favorite. Coined by disability advocate Mia Mingus, it means the intimate feeling of knowing your accessibility needs will be met by someone. Maybe they intuitively anticipate what you need before you even ask, or they simply create an environment so accepting and accessible that you feel no discomfort in asking. As someone with invisible disabilities, speaking up for what I need carries a lifetime of shame, fear of being judged or rejected, and feeling guilty for being a “burden” to others. With sick friends, I can just say whatever I’m feeling or need. They validate that my experience is real and empathize that they’ve been there. They ask clarifying questions to make sure they understand my needs and then put their creative and resourceful brains to the task. And sure, sometimes in a group of chronically fatigued and disabled people, sharing what I need doesn’t mean anyone else can get it for me. But having the space to ask is revolutionary in itself.
While I may not feel grateful for being sick, I have immense gratitude that my illness journey led me to such wonderful people. It took me years to find them, but it was worth the wait. If you are sick and reading this, I wish for you to find a community of loving sick and disabled friends. If you are a healthy and abled ally, I hope you will appreciate these gifts that sick friends can bring to your relationships ♡
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