When you’re sick, sometimes you really need to talk. You need support. A kind ear, a shoulder to cry on, figurative or literal.

Especially when you don’t have a partner.  So you turn to your friends. Those beloved people who are happy to eat your meat and drink your beer at a barbecue.  The people who confide their deepest fears (and the affairs they’re having at work) to you.  The people whose children often seem to end up at your house…

You to turn to them looking for support, understanding, compassion and empathy.

But you don’t always get it.  Sometimes you get something else entirely, and from talking to others in the chronic community, I’ve found there are a few kinds of ‘friends’ that are fairly common.

Here are the friends we often encounter:

The friend who has been through exactly what you’re going through. Exactly!  Except it was worse for her because…(talks for next hour about herself).

The friend who immediately has a solution. You’ve said one line, ONE line, and she immediately has it all worked out, she knows what you’re saying, she understands everything, and she knows the solution.  Too bad that you haven’t even broached the real problem yet…they’re in ‘solution’ mode!  And it’s all really quite simple…(talks for the next hour about herself)

The friend who always devalues your problem.  Who always tells you what you’re going through isn’t very bad at all.   If she’s really accomplished, she’ll point to someone else who has it much, much worse than you and point out how well they are managing.  And if that person can cope, well, you should be able to cope as well!  Seriously, your problems are tiny! What ARE you always complaining about? (And THEN talks for the next hour about herself).

The friend who tells you to cheer up and not to worry about it.  That you shouldn’t let it bother you.  And then moves on to talking about the weather in Singapore, or something equally as fascinating.  This is dismissive and demeaning and belittles your problem, by the way.  Obviously you ARE worried about it, else you wouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place!  Not very friendly.

The friend who just logs off. You’ve been chatting online for an hour and a half listening to their stuff and then you turn the subject to your problem.  And they just don’t answer.  Silence.  Dead air.  Then they go offline.  Um…bye?

The one word answer friend.  You tell them something deeply upsetting, and they say ‘Oh dear, that’s no good’.  And then they change the subject and keep talking, like you never said anything at all.

The new age-ey, yoga devotee, crystal worshiping, ‘the secret’ knowing, Woo loving friend who always thinks you just need to get out more.  And think positive!  And use essential oils.  And try Bowen Therapy.  And change your diet! That you wouldn’t be sick if you would just ‘see yourself healthy, and allow your body to use its inherent ability heal itself’.  That everything is curable, and the problem is with your earthly expression of your eternal soul, which is entirely within your power to change, if you’d only just read the teachings of Master Shri Yaki Mgwarri Woop!

Yeah. Thanks. If I could get out, I would.  If my body could heal itself, I’m sure it would.  But I’ll keep that in mind…

The poor sod that you barely know who comes online at just the wrong time and asks how you’re doing, and because you’re so desperate for someone to talk to, for some empathy, for some support, for some compassion you unload all of your crap onto them!

And immediately go ‘oh shit’ to yourself, then apologise.

What happens next just depends.  They might be really care about you and be a kind person and listen and talk to you for a while.  Or they might be confused as all get out and feel overloaded and not respond at all.  Or they might decide you’re probably nuts and extremely high maintenance and refrain from talking to you ever again.

Or…you might become closer friends and develop a real, deep friendship.  Thanking them for their support and returning the favour exponentially increases the odds of it being that last one.

And then there’s The Real Friend.

The one who sees that you’re in pain and drops whatever they’re doing and listens to you.  And they listen until you’re done talking.  They don’t interrupt. They don’t change the subject.  They ask questions to clarify what the problem is. They only talk about themselves to establish empathy, and to show they understand. Within the same sentence they turn the subject back to YOU. Not themselves.  When you’re done talking, they ask a few more questions to ensure you’ve really gotten it all out.  Then, they ask if they can help. Or they offer a suggestion or a strategy or a plan of attack, but only after they’ve listened to everything that you have to say.

And if it’s an online conversation, or over the phone and you’re still not OK, they come over with wine.

The real friend. That very rare beastie that you’re lucky if you have one of, in your entire life.  Some people never find a friend like this, so if you have one, be good to them.  Treat them well.  Listen to their troubles too, and support them when they are going through hard times…even if their ‘hard times’ don’t seem as hard as yours.  It’s all relative. Anyone who cared enough for you to listen until the end of your hurt deserves the same from you.

The real friend is hard to find.  In the meantime, we all keep trying to get blood out of a stone from the other types of friends.  Or eventually stop talking at all, and retreat further into our little world of isolation and hurt.

And you either cope, or you don’t.  Alone.

But maybe the best way to find a real friend, is to be one.

To read more from Arthritic Chick, please visit her website.