I was mentally restored by spending a few hours with two close friends last week. I’d had a stressful few days health wise which were exacerbated by an “unhelpful” medical appointment, leaving me spinning. I was off kilter, out of sorts, upset, angry, anxious, emotional and irrational. Yes, all in a couple of days! By the time I came home from a glass of wine, a lovely meal and most importantly the company of S&S I was feeling calm, centered, strong, rational and buzzing with ideas to resolve my problem. I feel this is the most beautiful thing good friends provide, they love you and fill you with energy.

Friendships are the most important and honest relationships we ever have.

Family is wonderful when it works, but we all know that you can’t choose your relations! (No offense to mine, they’re amazing). For want of a better word ‘mates’ or companions are fabulous and great for an afternoon of chat but not necessarily for baring your soul. Marriage has its own complications!

Making friends is quite a random process.

We meet someone, perhaps initially think they are interesting or kind or share a common ground, and from that somehow evolve into this incredibly trusting symbiosis. We aren’t consciously aware of doing so, but we must make a lot of tiny judgements about people who become our friends in the early days of knowing them. The dictionary defines a friend as ‘a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection’ but I feel the word symbiosis comes closer – ‘a mutually beneficial relationship between different people’.

Initially that sounds a little formal, but add in the ‘mutual affection’ of friends and you have a beautiful symbiotic relationship. Yes, it’s about give and take, but of the intangible kind. You don’t look at a stranger and think they’ll be supportive at 3am when the dog is sick, or decide they’d be a great hospital visitor. You can’t tell at first that this person will be the one to make you laugh until you cry when you miss the train or forget your in laws are coming for dinner.

Keeping friendships going when you have a chronic condition can be tough.

And making new friends can be harder, especially for those of us with a chronic illness but in my book it’s well worth the investment of those valuable spoons. I’m blessed and I know it. I have a few close girlfriends who I adore. I’ve collected them over the years from various places, and they all have one thing in common. They didn’t run. They didn’t decide I was too sick or too needy or too boring or unreliable once I became ill. They don’t complain when I cancel last minute, they just reschedule.

My friends know what I need.

They post chocolates through my door at random times. They answer messages at night when I haven’t got the energy to chat but need to sense check my thinking about how ill I’m feeling or if I’m a little low. They’ve even cancelled work to sit with me on bad days. They arrange a lunch with me for their birthday because they know I won’t make it out at night for drinks.

They are also incredibly honest, and will happily tell me I’m being a muppet if needed! But most of all they lift me. They help me be the best version of who I can be. Their faith in me reflects my faith in them. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without these beautiful strong, intelligent women in my life, and I’m blessed that I don’t need to find out.

Chronic illness can be isolating and lonely.

I sadly all too often see people, chronically ill people, those with RA and Fibromyalgia and ME saying just how lonely and isolated they’ve become, particularly for those who’ve had to give up working. They’ve almost lost contact with the outside world, friends have drifted away following repeat cancellations, people stop asking them out because they can’t guarantee being there. Or they’ve fallen out with friends over well meaning but ill-thought advice. It’s difficult to remember people are only being kind, especially when you’re in a lot of pain and then you don’t feel friends understand. It sadly all too often it creates a space between them that neither knows how to fill.

So what have I done differently?

I’m not sure I have a magic solution. I’ve perhaps just been lucky enough to make friends with some amazing ladies. I’ve always been open and honest with them, especially about my illness and how I feel. I think in some ways my blog has helped, they can read what I’m going through without it needing to be the topic of every conversation.

I also think it’s important to remember that friendship, just like any other relationship takes work. I realized in January I hadn’t seen two friends in far too long, so I messaged them both and said OK, lunch when? Saw one last week, will see the other next week. Make that call, keep in touch. I don’t mean it should feel unnatural or be an effort, but that it’s important we put in as much love and energy as we get out. It would be horrid to think after recharging me last night that my friends went home drained, but it’s a reciprocal process, we chat, we laugh, we vent, we eat and we somehow make sure we each share what we need. It’s exactly the same with my other friends.

You have to really be there and you have to actively listen (call it mindful friendship time!) to ensure they know they are special and they are loved. The payback is priceless, you feel special and loved too.

 

You can read more about Denise and her journey with Rheumatoid Arthritis on her blog, singlerheum