I met with up an old friend for tea. As we were standing in line, she asked about my college friends and how they were doing. I started talking about one, and she interrupted, asking, “Is that the girl with Crohn’s?” “No,” I said, and named another disease. My friend smirked, and said, “Do you have any healthy friends?”
It’s an ongoing joke amongst my family and closest friends that, in order for me to know someone, they have to have a chronic illness. To an outsider examining those I have chosen to be ‘my people,’ it would indeed seem that having an illness is some form of a requirement – the vast majority of my close friends have chronic illnesses. The natural thought is that we’re friends because of being young with chronic illnesses, but that is not completely true.
They did not choose me because of my illness, or in spite of my illness, but rather they chose me with my illness. Living with a pediatric chronic illness has been, in my experience, a simultaneous growing up and growing down: the growing up is bumpy and circuitous, while the growing down is shirking off the medical maturity and fumbling to fit in and understand peers without disease. I have several wonderful, empathetic, incredible friends who – surprise, surprise – do not have chronic illnesses, and these people have been unimaginably understanding, supportive, and encouraging. But, in light of a variety of challenges my friends with chronic illnesses have been facing, I wanted to write this post in explaining the beauty of a friendship steeped in chronic illness.
To my friends with chronic illnesses:
Thank you –
For understanding that when I say I’m having a ‘bad day,’ I’m really not feeling well but trying to be brave. For sending me funny pictures and sweet cards in the mail. For never replacing true empathy with an easy platitude.
Thank you for seeing the strength in my struggles, the determination in my pain, the resilience in my scars. For knowing that I am not my disease, but like a tree with a missing limb, I am whole even if my body is not.
I am better for being your friend – better for sharing my story with you and better for listening patiently to yours. I am so full of everything good because of your willingness to hear me when I’m terrified and upset, to celebrate my triumphs when I push on, to let me have a moment of fear before you tell me I can do anything.
We are not friends because we are sick – it may be how we found each other, but we are friends because we are puzzle pieces that click together, choruses to the same song, hands that were meant to hold the other. I look at you and see you, not your disease, not your pills, not your doctors, not your prognosis. We see one another when sometimes everyone else can only see the mask.
I hurt when you hurt, but I will always be there for you, just as you are there for me.
This is a thank you, a celebration, a marking of how much your friendship means to me. Words will never do this justice, but I wanted to try.
For now and for always, thank you.