How My Chronic Illness Showed Me Who My Real Friends Are

By Lauren Rothman: For More Info, Go Here…

For a year-and-a-half, I’ve been living with chronic Lyme disease, and each day brings its own stew of symptoms, ranging from the inconvenient to the downright intolerable. I was given the diagnosis of chronic Lyme by a doctor in New York City, based on the results of a blood test conducted by the Lyme Disease Laboratory at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. The medical community at large does not currently agree on what this diagnosis refers to, or even that such a condition exists. My particular symptoms include crippling fatigue, bone and muscle pain and a marked decrease in cognitive function. I am not a doctor, but the affliction I suffer from is very, very real.

When it became clear that my Lyme case was a serious one that would radically alter my life, limiting my abilities to work, run errands and, sometimes, to even leave the house, I expected my community of generous, in some cases lifelong friends, to rally around me, showing up at my door with healthy home-cooked food or offers to help me with my laundry and chores.

To my mind, these expectations were logical. Pre-Lyme, I was blessed by a solid group of ride-or-dies: compassionate friends like my pal since college, who generously tolerated years of freak outs related to my on-again, off-again musician hookup, and another friend whose apartment around the corner from mine was a second home where we’d regularly watch hours of PBS cooking shows and paint and collage around his huge dining room table.

I thought that these pillars of support would be there for me in my time of need. Instead, the opposite has been true: As my illness has progressed, formerly dear friends have gone absolutely MIA. Calls and texts first slowed, then stopped; even when I outright asked for favors, friends were often too absorbed in their busy, thriving lives to make time to bring me groceries or accompany me to a doctor’s appointment.

I don’t share this scenario to garner pity: My illness has allowed me to tap into deep reserves of self-reliance and inner strength that I didn’t even know I possessed. And once I got over the shocking reality of my friends’ inability to be there for me, I’ve mostly been able to make it through by drawing on my own personal fortitude.

In the chronic illness community, there’s an expression that goes, “It’s amazing how chronic illness turns friends into strangers and strangers into friends.”

As for the second part of the saying about chronic illness — that it turns strangers into friends — that one took me a little longer to figure out, but it’s no less true. For many months after becoming sick, I was resistant to my illness, each day thinking that I might just wake up from the extended nightmare and magically be back to my healthy, normal self. I refused to think of myself as “chronically ill,” and avoided Lyme communities like the plague.

But eventually, as the magnitude of my illness made itself clear, I joined the Facebook groups and also found many Lyme sufferers on Instagram. Although I haven’t met most of these people in real life, I’ve connected with a few here in the New York area, which has been a wonderful experience; they’ve become my clan.

Every single day, I check in with these stranger-friends: We see how each other is feeling, check in on the support we’re receiving on the homefront, ask if any progress is being made with treatment or simply complain about our crushing and various symptoms. These are my people now, the only ones in my life who understand what it feels like to be tired, uncomfortable and in pain every single day.

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