My Facebook feed is full of various links to the delightful articles entitled:
“TEN TOXIC FRENDS YOU SHOUD DROP RIGHT NOW AND LAUGH AND DANCE ON THEIR GRAVES AFTER THEY COMMIT SUICIDE BECAUSE YOU REJECTED THEM!”
“TEN TOXIC FRIENDS THAT WILL MAKE YOU TOXIC IF YOU DON’T HARDEN YOUR HEART AND DRIVE THEM OUT OF YOUR LIFE INTO A WINTER SNOWSTORM WHERE THOSE LOSERS CAN DIE!”
“TEN TOXIC FRIENDS THAT YOU SHOULD DROP AS YOU ARE OF COURSE PERFECT AND SHOULD NOT HANG WITH LOSERS!”
The first thing I thought on reading one of these articles was “Wow, there are people that have so many friends they can get rid of up to TEN of them? They even have ten friends? Who has TEN FRIENDS?”
After reading this articles I discovered that I am indeed YOUR TOXIC FRIEND. In fact, almost anyone with a chronic illness is YOUR TOXIC FRIEND. The below is inspired by all my wonderfully brave and strong chronic illness toxic friends.
TEN REASONS I AM YOUR TOXIC FRIEND
Chronic Pain Edition
- I will whine and complain a lot. I may not be very positive. I may not find much to be positive about. I probably have just come from my specialist (one of several) who is “In trials this drug helped 80% feel 20% better, however there is a chance you will may catch Ebola. It’s just a side effect though, don’t worry about it.” It’s hard to be your happy positive friend all the time.
- I may not be supportive. This is not because I am not supportive of your exciting successful life. If I am honest, I am jealous. I do want to hear about your trip to Madagascar to feed orphan lemurs, and hang with Brad Pitt. Tell me, but part of my heart is breaking that I also can’t feed baby lemurs. (Brad Pitt you can have). So if I’m not cheering about your fantastic life it isn’t that I’m not happy for you. I am. Just give me a few moments to warm up to it. I want to feel part of your life. I just need to mourn the part of my life that is over first. Bear with me, and keep sharing. Remember this is my problem not yours.
- . Money. I will be your cheap friend. I won’t be first to reach for the tab. You send me beautiful holiday gifts and in return I send you a home made book mark. I wish truly that I could buy you everything deserve for putting up with me. I wish I could gift you with the knowledge of what your friendship means to me, because I honestly can’t afford to buy you a nice present. Medical bills, especially in the United States, are very high. Co payments for the insured often eat up expendable income. Sometimes money goes for a thumb brace, or a wheelchair, or even just something to make my life easier. I spend too much on books, because I find reading such a wonderful escape. I am cheap as I am broke.
- I will not be on time or be reliable. That is because I don’t know what each day will bring. Will I have an arthritis flare? Others don’t know if they will have a killer migraine. Perhaps they will just feel sad, and need a day in bed. Whatever our long term medical issue, the one thing we all have in common is unpredictability. We have no clue if we’ll be able to make that lunch date or not. We may spend time getting ready to go out, to find we are exhausted. We are not to be relied upon, and we know it. Don’t count on me. But know I count on you and your friendship.
- I will focus on ME! This means it takes a strong person to be the friend of a person with a chronic illness, because of this we have few true friends. So we will take any opportunity to just dump on you all our miseries, fears and hopes. It is also helpful to talk to someone that is not a close family member or medical professional. Consider listening to someone with a chronic illness a gift to their husband, wife or children. They take the burden of this, and any break is a wonderful gift only you can give them. It is important that I remember to ask about you and your life, and indeed remind me or just butt in with updates about your life. It’s good for me! Also by talking about yourself, and your problems and happiness, takes the focus away from ME, and toward someone else. I can be a good listener also.
- I will talk about inappropriate topics. These will include medical stuff you probably don’t want to hear about while eating. I will probably talk about bowel movements and migraines from hell and funny rashes during dinner parties. This is because this is the reality of my life. I’ve had to overcome any respectful distance I had between my body functions and my mouth. I talk with doctors galore about the most intimate and disgusting things, until I become a little too comfortable with it. A gentle reminder that this is gross is welcome, but also, you may just have to put up with my TMI mouth.
- You may feel our relationship is one sided. You may not feel comfortable talking about your life and your problems. You may feel your problems are nothing compared to mine, so why would I be interested? This is a common fallacy. I am very interested in the lives of my friends, and while I have to admit I feel overwhelmed at times by my health, I am not overwhelmed by yours. I want to listen. It’s a sign of respect when you are honest and open with me. You will find I have incredible empathy, and if anyone with a chronic illness says to you “Well that’s NOTHING, listen to how awful my life is!” you have every right to drop them as a friend. That person truly is toxic. Most people with a chronic illness do not feel that way. We are indeed happy and glad for our healthy friends. We would never ever wish illness or pain on anyone else.
- I probably won’t listen to your well intentioned medical advice. You have something wonderful to share with me. Scientists have found a cure for whatever I have…. IN MICE. My own doctor jokes with me that every article about a scientific breakthrough should be ignored if anywhere in the article it says “IN MICE”. Also, I know you have a friend that found acupuncture so helpful, or an article proving drinking apple cider vinegar cures arthritis. I am sorry if I am not respectful of your advice and caring. I understand it’s because you do care that you share, but if I ignore you advice please don’t be angry. I have a good medical team, and medical science is not able to cure a WHOLE LOT OF STUFF. In fact, it’s shocking how often doctors say “Well, we can manage that, to the best of our ability, but we can’t cure it.” Major illnesses like most arthritis disease and almost all inflammatory illnesses are without cures. Even managing these illnesses is hit or miss. It is depressing, for both patient and doctor. In fact, neurology and rheumatology are the least picked of specialties for new physicians. It’s just too darn depressing to have patient after patient that will only get worse, not better.
- I am grumpy sometimes. I may not want to talk. I may withdraw. This is far from the time to pull away. It’s the time to remind me you are still my friend. I could be feeling depressed. Depression is the often deadly companion of any chronic illness. Want to be a hero? Stick with me through the rough times and you could be saving a life. I will be that moody friend. When I disappear for a bit, it’s worth finding me.
- I will not be an equal partner in this friendship. I will ask of you far more than you can possibly ask of me. But, your friendship is a gift that makes me feel needed and wanted. It gives meaning to a life of pain and answers that question “Why should I go on?” I should go on as I would be missed by my friends. Plus, you’ll never get empathy and gratitude from anyone like you will from me! Your friendship isn’t just for fun with a person with chronic illness, it may be one of the things that gets them up in the morning. Friendship becomes something so much more than you ever imagined. It’s not always easy, but take pride in how important you are to another person. Your life becomes more important and meaningful through friendship with a person with a chronic illness.
Yes, I am that toxic friend.
But, friendship has an importance to me that it doesn’t to other “normal” people that never make those toxic lists. You will never be more appreciated ,or indeed loved and needed, than by your toxic chronically ill friend.