Relationships are often times tricky to navigate. Whether it be family, friends, or lovers it is rarely a straightforward situation. Throw a complication like a chronic illness into the mix and things tend to be....less complicated?!
I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out. Everyone wears a variety of masks in their life. Some are for different occasions, others are for different people, but often times they maintain these masks for years. When you have limited energy resources and are forced into incredibly vulnerable situations like chemo treatments, ER visits in the middle of the night, and medication side effects, those masks that others in society tend to put on, don't last very long.
Personally speaking, I will wear a "mask" for work functions, a night out, etc. but they are incredibly short lived. If any friendship/relationship is around long enough, they get at least a glimpse of the "real me". The beautifully, messy version of life. I didn't use to view this aspect of my life as beautifully messy, but the longer I learn to manage my asthma, lupus, chronic pain, etc. the less I am concerned with the capacity of others to deal with it as well.
Everyone has a different capacity of compassion, patience, and staying power. Most relationships are meant for a particular season in our life. Very few are meant to last forever. And that is ok. What makes this less complicated is that the personal dealings of having a chronic illness weeds people into more specific relationship categories a lot more quickly than if we were to have the energy to deal with everyone's "masks" and illusionary motives.
Some people can cross over categories, some people grow into others and others eventually fade away. Again, it is all ok. In order to help myself maintain a healthy mental state over all of the noise, I am learning to accept that it is what it is. So, let's break it down:
1. The WAFFLER
This person usually means well, but their stay-power is garbage. Their compassion levels are usually high and they, in some capacity want to think they will stick around to help. But when push comes to shove, unless it is actually convenient for them, don't put too much stock in what they say. They may say YES to everything. If they surprise you in a positive way by showing up, GREAT! Just don't be disappointed when they don't.
2. The OPTIMIST
This person is a lot like the waffler, but deep down they really want to do the right thing. Just like above though, don't be too disappointed if they aren't available. These people tend to spread themselves too thin because they are good people, but terrible at managing their own time and energy.
3. The OVER and ABOVE
These people are the rarest and when it comes to relationships. These people you don't even have to ask for help, they just do. They show up just to help you do your dishes or drop off food when you are sick. Even when you aren't having a bad day they still want to be part of your life. The bad thing about them is they will often not tell you when THEY are in need or let people help them either. A lot of chronically ill people can be like this on good days because they are trying to pay people back for when they are in need and there is a weighted guilt that comes with that.
4. The FEARFUL
These types relationships tend to only be around when you are having a good day because honestly, the whole "sick" thing freaks them out. These people might even come pick you up from the hospital, but they won't go inside because of some past experience, or a personal phobia of all things "sick". Don't expect these people to be around much, especially as a chronically ill person.
5. The SAVIOR
These people are ONLY around when you ARE sick. They will take you to the hospital and come help when you ask because you physically are unable to do something, etc. But when you are having a good day, they are just not around. This is because deep down they have some need to fulfill for themselves. They are able to pat themselves on the back that they helped you when you really needed THEM. They will tell you things like, "I'm sorry I couldn't make it today, but if it was an emergency then you know I would have been there." This relationship is selfish so be careful. These people care more about the pat on the back they can give themselves vs the relationship with you.
It is incredibly challenging to find relationships within our families, friends, and lovers that are balanced. Everyone (chronically ill or not) has good days and bad days. While every relationship is healthier with stronger levels of balanced people in them, as a chronically ill person, it is more necessary than most. We just do not have the energy to deal with those who are not willing to invest. Having something so life-affecting and yes, often burdensome, requires a different level of vetting in the people we choose to spend our time with. Some people realize the value of 4 quarters over 100 pennies with age, but we realize it through circumstances.
The goal in all of this is to find a healthy balance. Seeking relationships with people who have high levels of compassion, patience and staying power needs to be every spoonies goal. Letting go of those without those qualities is hard. We want to see the good in everyone because a lot of time we desperately want others to see past what we think are terrible flaws, which are our diagnosis'. When we finally realize it isn't about people loving us in spite of our diagnosis', but rather in the midst of them.
We are beautifully messy.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost