Today’s post is inspired by a radio programme I heard, about the human relationship to physical pain, featuring a woman who suffers from M.E. or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
My bunny ears pricked up because obviously, bipolar is considered to be a chronic illness.
For ages, I never really knew what a chronic illness even meant. My only deep-wired reference for the word ‘chronic’ was from childhood, whilst watching My Fair Lady: when Eliza, (Audrey Hepburn) makes an exhibition of herself at Ascot and explains her father’s rampant alcoholism.
GENT -Do you mean that he drank?
ELIZA -Drank! My word, something chronic!
Pray silence for the legend that is Audrey Hepburn.
I soon learned that a chronic illness is one that requires managing over time and will never go away. Whilst this lady’s condition was more VISIBLY apparent to people, she made a very interesting point about how she slowly lost friends to her illness because of their inability to understand her exhaustion and unrelenting pain.
She explained that when people have an ACUTE pain, one of those fight or flight instances, or some pain that has an end in sight, people are very nice to you. It’s almost as if societal rules and responsibilities are suspended for you.
People send you balloons.
Anyone who had ever broken a limb or had a cold understands this indulgence. BUT, said she, not so with chronic illness. It’s not going to go away so people just don’t know how to act in relation to your pain. There’s no point asking: “How are you?” because the unvarnished truth: “I’m in pain, just like I’m in pain every day to varying degrees” is too much for others to handle.
She explained how people began to get annoyed with her, (a human in pain) when she couldn’t honour social engagements, or left early and how they eventually drifted away. There were other friends who came over and did her dishes and played Snakes and Ladders. Simply, if you have a friend you love, but who can’t come to you, go to them.
This is a Muslim officially using the ‘If the mountain can’t come to Muhammad’ line (pbuh.)
I could relate to this. In recovery from my first episode my sisters became jealous of the parental attention I was getting, to the point at which they thought I was just making a fuss. It was really painful for me to feel their lack of support.
This woman’s story made me feel sad that the quality of what people deem as ‘friendship’ has been corrupted. Your friends are not there to ensure that your ‘social life quota’ is fulfilled. Anyone who cannot value your uniqueness, offer their honesty, or walk alongside you does not need to be in your life: because friendship is a free-will bond, which unlike many other relationships, is maintained without contracts.
Your chronic illness is going to be with you for a long time, it will test you and your friends, but you are the world’s foremost expert on YOUR illness. People will respond to a disclosure in the same way as you give it.
When it comes to your illness, open with compassion and let the world take its cue from you.
~ Pola ~