The loss of your former self is a mourning process and I don’t know if and when that ends, says Andrea Willis

Andrea Willis, true story, Arthritis Digest magazine, arthritis informationMost of us have experienced some form of loss in our lives. As a society we have learned how to cope with the finality of death. There are religious and cultural ceremonies, people attend memorials, send cards and flowers and even bring food. Normally there is a tremendous amount of support in the initial weeks following, and maybe months afterwards. The few will be there for you for the years to follow.

But when loss is not final, instead taking the shape of an ongoing and invisible chronic illness, what then? There isn’t a card that says “sorry for your ongoing chronic illness”.

Some people really don’t know how to deal with seeing their friends suffering and they don’t know how to react or behave. Illness can make people feel uncomfortable, sometimes even when they have made the effort to understand what’s wrong. Endless hospital and doctors’ appointments are obviously not as appealing as coffee and lunch dates. And then there is having to cancel plans because of pain levels or anxiety about leaving the house.

Some friends fall away… the visits become fewer, the random chats on the phone become less frequent and the invites for shopping trips and coffee stop.

Talking from experience, it’s important not to take it too personally even though it feels terribly personal when you’re going through it. It’s a learning experience. It’s important to give friends the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they felt they didn’t want to bother you, perhaps they thought that no contact or little contact would be better than feeling helpless in your presence. Maybe they don’t know how they can be supportive, unless you tell them and make them feel at ease. They may also have their own struggles and simply can’t handle yours too. Don’t judge them too quickly like I did. Love them anyway.

Fortunately there are some friends that don’t fall away and don’t need to be told what to do or say. They can be your life-line in helping you stay in touch with others who feel they may be intruding. You don’t have to be in contact with them every minute but you know these friends are always a phone call or text away.

It’s even easier now with social media websites. Thankfully there are support groups online for just about every illness and problem life can deal you. I have met some amazing people and made great friendships with people in a similar situation to my own. I know they will truly understand what it’s like to live with chronic illness.

The loss of your former self is a mourning process and I don’t know if and when that ends. But that doesn’t mean you stop living. You just learn to love a new self and appreciate the strengths you still have and the new ones you have found.

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