When talking about “relationships” in this post, it includes all the relationships you have in life, from your friends, family, partner, classmates, colleagues, and even health professionals.
All relationships in life can be hard at times, but they can become especially hard when you’re chronically ill as the dynamics of your relationships will change. You might have people who you thought were your “friends” disappear as soon as you fell ill, or you might find some people have been a lot less supportive and kind towards you than you would have hoped. This may have a huge impact on your confidence and self-esteem, so it can be very hard to let go of old, established relationships. You may also hold onto relationships that have become unhealthy or toxic because you believe it is better having someone rather than no-one, or that you deserve to be treated badly as you are unable to have a “normal” relationship due to your illness. Furthermore, due to stigma’s surrounding so many chronic illnesses, it can give the people around you a distorted view of your illness which will make communicating with them even more difficult.
Although it can be so hard, there are ways which will help you cope with relationships when chronically ill. During this post, we’ll look at the “warning signs” in relationships to help you recognise when an individual is not treating you kindly. We will also explore ways which you can help the relationship, both with others and yourself. Lastly, we will consider things which we need to always remember for all relationships throughout life.
- Do not allow people to use your illness as an excuse – Some people might use your illness as an excuse for things going wrong in their lives, for example, they might say your illness is affecting them so much that they can’t have fun or think of anything else. However, this is not true, as everyone is responsible for their own happiness, so don’t allow others to blame you for their own unhappiness and frustrations in life.
- Do not allow people to use your illness as the reason for things going wrong in a relationship – The reason things might be going wrong in a relationship might be due to a lack of communication, or the other person not being patient or understanding enough about your illness. However, your illness might not have anything to do with why your relationship is unhappy, so it is important you recognise that when things go wrong it can be for a variety of reasons.
- Do not allow people to make you feel guilty – If you explain to people that you might have to cancel plans last minute due to your health being so unreliable, your true friends will understand this. Those people who make you feel guilty for cancelling plans despite knowing about your unreliable health are not the kind of people you want in your life.
- Do not allow others to treat you badly to make up for the fact you can’t do “normal things” – You might sometimes feel guilty and feel like you deserve to be treated badly as you are unable to go out to parties, go on dates, or do “normal things” with other people. But with true relationships people accept this and will always want to do activities that work around you and your illness. Furthermore, don’t allow people to push you physically into activities which you are not well enough to do. If they care about you they will not force you to do anything which you are not up to.
Things You Can Do to Help
- Know when to let go of unsupportive relationships – Finding social support is one of the best ways to cope with being ill, but unfortunately, some friends just have a way of disappearing or being unhelpful after they find out about your illness. Letting go of relationships can be very hard, but by keeping a toxic or unkind person in your life, it will do more damage in the long run. You’re much better off on your own than being in relationships that are unhealthy. End the relationship if:
- They repeatedly say insensitive and unkind things to you.
- They are using you as a dumping ground for their problems but never asking how you are or picking up the phone to check in on you.
- They are only “friends” with you when it is convenient for them or for their own benefit.
- They put very little effort into the relationship, it is always you who arranges and suggests things to do.
- They ditch you to see other people or to do more “interesting” things like go to a party.
- They stop inviting you out because they decide it’s appropriate for them to make the choice for you.
- They advocate for you regarding your health without your agreement.
- You are the one trying to save the relationship with someone who stopped calling or caring when you got sick.
- They show ANY of the 4 “warning signs”.
- Learn to be okay on your own – When you’re chronically ill, you may find you have to spend a lot more time on your own. Although this is hard, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing. Try to plan your day in advance, that way you will find you’ll end up looking forward to spending time on your own. For example, you could plan on a certain evening to watch a movie, take a bath, snuggle up in front of the fire and read a book, have a pamper night, or simply make the most of the peace and quiet and listen to some gentle music and have a snooze. By planning some nice things to do in advance, you will be less likely to see being on your own as an issue and more as some good quality “me” time. If you’re struggling with loneliness check out my post, “20 Ways to Help You Cope with Loneliness”, by clicking here.
- Practise gratitude – It can be truly hard to see other people doing all the things you used to do, therefore it is so important to stay focused on all the things you can still do. By practising gratitude daily, it will help you see all the amazing things you still do have and keep you in the present moment. For more tips on “How to Practise Gratitude”, click here.
- Communicate to your friends and family about your illness – Try to educate your friends and family about your illness, that way they will be able to support you better and understand what you are going through. If you’re struggling to know what to say, start off by communicating the symptoms you experience and encourage them to ask you questions. However, try not to become upset or annoyed if they don’t ask you anything, especially with the younger generation, because often with younger people they find it hard to know what to say. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad friend, it just means they lack the experience of knowing what to say. Some good ways to help them is by sharing some articles or videos of your illness to help them understand.
- Fill your old social “voids” – Often, due to illness, you might have to stop activities, and because of this you may lose many social connections and friends. To fill the “void”, try and find people in your local area and join in something you can do, like maybe a meditation class, or a painting class etc. If you are too unwell to find something locally, try turning to an online community, or indulge in an activity or hobby at home that you’ve always wanted to try but one that physically you can cope with. Although the social “voids” are a lot more noticeable and harder to cope with in the short-term, they will become easier to fill in the long-term.
- Don’t let other people’s criticism get you down – You might receive criticism from friends, family, strangers or even doctors, who don’t understand or try to understand your illness. They might say things like, “you’re not ill, it’s all in your head”, or “you just need to try this treatment to get better”. If you know the individual making this remark, try and explain to them mindfully what’s going on and help them understand whatever you are going through. If you are finding close friends are still making hurtful comments even after you have tried talking to them, really consider if this is a friendship you want to keep. You need to be friends with people who are supportive and kind, even if they don’t fully understand what you are going through. On the other hand, when people make hurtful comments and they are not people you can talk to, for example strangers or doctors, the best way to deal with it is to remember that no matter what anyone else says, you are the one who knows yourself best. Never allow anyone to tell you how you’re feeling. For more on “How to Deal with Criticism”, click here.
Things to Remember
- Realise that they don’t have to completely understand – True friends will always try to understand what you’re going through, but try not to get frustrated with them if they don’t “get it”. It can also be especially confusing for people if they only see you on your “good days”, so always keep up communication to help them understand about your illness and allow room for them to make mistakes. Furthermore, if people are constantly trying to offer you advice on the “latest magical cure”, remember that they are only trying to help you and that their intention is good, even though it is very annoying!
- Don’t be friends with someone for the sake of “having friends” – Even if that means you are left with very little or even no friends, it’s far better to be on your own than to be friends with toxic or unkind people. Although it can be scary to lose so many or all your friends, hold onto the hope that others are out there for you. In the meantime, use it as an opportunity to cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself and learn to be okay on your own and enjoy your own company.
- Recognise your carer needs time out for themselves – If you have someone who looks after you, always remember that your carer needs time away from you so that they can pursue their own interests and recharge their batteries from being in a carer role.
- Learn from every relationship – It takes a long time to realise that every relationship is there for a reason. If you never experience negative relationships, you will not recognise “warning signs” for the future. When a healthy, positive relationship does come along you will be able to appreciate that individual even more! There is always a hidden lesson to learn behind everything.
- Accept that not all relationships last – For many people life is constantly changing, and often relationships get lost along the way. For the younger generation this is even more so, as people are moving on to university, moving cities, getting jobs, getting married, travelling. Whether you have an illness or not, it is normal for some relationships to drift apart during these years. Many relationships are good for certain times in your life, but as you move on relationships often move on too. Remember, if you allow relationships to fall away which are not working, you are then creating space to find new people to take their place. Furthermore, always remain open to inviting old friends back into your life. People come and go, and sometimes old friends return after disappearing for a while. Be willing to reconnect with people from the past.
- Understand that your true friends will still be there for you when you are well enough to see them.
- Cherish the people who stick around – The people who you can truly trust to stick around with you through everything are some of the best people life has to offer.
- You will learn who your true friends are – If anything, see your illness as an opportunity to learn who your true friends really are, because they are the only people worth having in your life.
I hope you found this post useful and it can help you cope with relationships when chronically ill. If you have any questions or want to contact me, either leave a comment below or message me privately via the “contact me” menu button.
Metta, E xx