We have probably all put people into categories… ‘the quiet one’, ‘the sporty one’, ‘the funny one’. But since I’ve experienced chronic illness I have started to categorise people differently. Here are 5 people you’ll meet if you have a chronic illness too.
1. The expert
This person knows someone with your diagnosis, or knows all about it from a documentary they watched once – bonus points if they know someone who has been cured from your incurable condition. They have endless wisdom when it comes to health and well-being and truly believe everything can be fixed through only eating yoghurts/sleeping in two-hour bursts/a daily five-hour run/the power of positive thought/…the list goes on! They’ll send you recommendations and if you don’t implement them then it’s no wonder you’re not getting better really. Silly us – we forgot that an apple a day keeps the doctor away 🙂
2. The optimist
The optimist means well and wants to make you feel better. You try hard not to show your frustration when they say things like “it will get better”, “well you look great anyway!” or “you’re so brave!”. It can feel like the optimist just isn’t listening to you when you try and explain how you feel. Sometimes we just want to be acknowledged. They might also point out the ‘positives’ such as “at least you get to rest more” or “you get to have all this free time”. What they fail to realise is that you would most likely give up this so-called ‘free-time’ for the life you imagined but had to adjust because of your condition.
3. The self-absorbed
This person frequently offers to call you or come round for a cup of tea and a natter to cheer you up and keep you company. However it quickly becomes clear that the self-absorbed wants a captive audience to talk to about their own problems. If you didn’t feel rubbish to start with, you will after taking on all of this person’s problems as well as your own. You might begin to question this one-way friendship as the self-absorbed doesn’t seem to listen when you need to talk and finds a way to make things all about them.
4. The non-believer
There are two types of non-believers. The first doubts your particular condition exists at all, questioning medical evidence and the reasons people might claim to have a certain condition. They say “we all have bad days”, “everyone gets tired”, and “you were fine yesterday”. The second type questions it because of characteristics you happen to have. They say “you’re too young to have a condition like that”, or “you don’t look sick”. But this doesn’t change how you feel inside.
You might spend a lot of your energy trying to convince non-believers how ill you really are. My advice – don’t waste your precious spoons. Some people will never understand unless they have experienced a condition themselves. And think of the other lovely things you could do with that energy!
5. The true friend
The true friend comes in all shapes and sizes. They love you unconditionally and try to understand. Their small acts of kindness cheer you up no end just when you need it the most. They are the online #chronicillness community who spur each other on. What they all have in common is patience, kindness, and a listening ear. They will not disappear at your darkest moments. Hold on to these people for dear life, surround yourself with them, and pay back their kindness however you can – your life will be richer for it.
My relationships with people have changed immensely since becoming unwell. As people drifted away or doubted me I felt a lot of negative emotions and feared being alone. I realise it can be difficult for people to understand when they have not experienced a condition themselves, particularly where symptoms are invisible or fluctuating, but I was still frustrated.
However I now recognise the good that has come from this. It has revealed people’s true characters, and as I have limited energy, I want to spend it on the true friends rather than waste it on the others. Some of the ‘true friends’ are strangers online, but I actually get more joy from our interactions than I did from some of the people I felt duty-bound to spend time with. I am now focused on surrounding myself with the true friends – they will be with you through both the highs and the lows.
Don’t forget you are not alone – there are others like you. If you ever need to talk please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.
I’ll be writing in more depth in the future about how some of my relationships have changed and how I rid myself of some of those ‘experts’, ‘optimists’, ‘self-absorbed’ and ‘non-believers’. Have you experienced these types of people? Share your stories below and any advice for others on how you coped.