Making and breaking plans is a common theme for people with chronic illness. It’s something I’ve lost a lot of friendships over and still haven’t found a great way to handle.
The way I’ve seen it you only have a few choices:
- Don’t make plans. Choosing to just NOT make plans with friends because you’re afraid you can’t keep them is one option. The good news is you’ll never hurt anyone’s feelings or have to send that awkward text or unfortunate phone call cancelling. The bad news is you’ll never make or keep friends by choosing to intentionally not be social. Doesn’t sound like a great plan, does it?
- Make plans, and take the chance that you’ll have to break them. Choosing to make plans, even though you’re not 100% sure you can keep them seems to be the path I’m taking right now. The good news is you’ll feel great when you can make a party, keep a lunch date, or be able to hang out after looking forward to it for a few days. The bad news is that you’ll risk the chance of your friends being caught off guard, feeling rejected, or getting offended that you didn’t respect their time and plans.
Nobody wants to be that asshole who backs out at the last minute, but sometimes it’s the only way to stay connected with friends when a good deal of your life is tests, doctors, hospitals and nights on the bathroom floor.
For me, at least, this is a problem that dates back to elementary school play dates and today is STILL weighs heavily on me just how very much my illness affects my attendance and my friendships.
Even friends and family members who know you, and are used to your inconsistencies can get frustrated over time with your lack of a consistent schedule. You can’t blame them. If they missed all of your parties, birthdays, dates, and nights out—you’d probably be a little fed-up too.
And I’m not saying that my friends and family haven’t made HUGE, GIANT, and extremely kind and understanding allowances for me (because you can bet they have!) but as you cancel, flake-out, back out or whatever you want to call it—you have to expect for them to feel that frustration, anger, disappointment—and you have to give them the space to have these reactions.
And in the meantime—you have to not take it personally.
I’ve explained this dilemma to friends who know me well and they always ask the same thing, “well—why don’t you just tell them you’re sick?”
Who here has tried that? Anyone? Everyone? Yeah. I’m betting you had the same reactions that I did.
Introducing Your Illness to New Friends
When I tell new friends who don’t know me early on in our relationships that I have a chronic illness—I am suddenly chronic-illness-Ilana. And while I never mind explaining my disease, treatment, or experiences—I frequently find that it suddenly becomes the defining factor in my personality. I’m no longer Ilana-the-PR-Agent, or Ilana-the-girl-who-knows-the-best-places-to-buy-dresses.
This is also almost always the case when I make friends with other people who have chronic illnesses.
It’s suddenly all there is to talk about. And then it just gets…depressing.
So there’s your dilemma: Do you make friends who have similar struggles so that they’ll understand when you flake out (and wallow in common disparities?) Or do you make friends who make you want to go out and have a good time—and deal with the ensuing depression when you can’t get it together?
Maybe someone out there has better advice than I do, but all I’m going on is trial and error. Making friends in your twenties is hard enough without a chronic illness maximizing your schedule and sanity. Maybe because it’s an era of finding yourself, maybe because you’ve finally given up on photoshopping your Facebook photos.
Whatever the case…
…Isn’t my dog cute?
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