Friday, August 04, 2006

You've Got To Have Friends

(Can you hear Bette Midler singing in the background?)

Yesterday, I ran into an old friend that I hadn't seen in four years. I say "old" because I haven't heard from her since a few months after I first became ill with CFIDS. It was strange and uncomfortable seeing her again, and it brought back all sorts of conflicted feelings.

She and I became friends in 1999 when our oldest sons were in kindergarten together. I had just left my 15-year consulting career and was trying to adjust to my new life as a stay-at-home mom. She was an old hat at this routine, and we quickly became friends. In some ways, I felt like I was back in high school. I was the new kid, and she was the out-going, popular one surrounded by an admiring group of friends. My younger son and her daughter started preschool together the following year, and we became even closer, spending hours talking together at one of our homes while the kids played.

Then, in March 2002, I suddenly became sick. We continued to talk on the phone through those first few months, as I wondered what was wrong with me. She invited me to a party that spring, but at the last minute, I had to cancel because I was too sick to leave the house. I never heard from her again.

I was stunned and very hurt. I couldn't understand why a friend would desert me at a time when I most desperately needed support.

In fact, the same thing happened with another friend, an old work colleague. Although we lived in different states, we exchanged e-mail messages several times a day, sharing stories of our kids and sometimes even telling each other things that we'd told no one else. She hung in there with me for quite awhile, but once I was diagnosed and knew that my life now included chronic illness for good, she sort of drifted away. At one point, I tried to renew our relationship. We talked openly about what had happened, and she admitted that she felt uncomfortable with my illness and didn't know what to say to me. I tried to be supportive of her feelings and reassure her I was still the same person. We kept in touch for awhile, but she eventually drifted away again.

Over time, I've come to understand that some people just don't feel comfortable dealing with chronic illness. I know that some of my family feels similarly and would probably also drift away, if they could. I still don't really get it because I like to deal with life in a straightforward and open way, but I at least know that it's them, not me. This has been one of the most painful aspects of living with CFIDS.

I met another friend in 1999. Another mom with a son in my son's kindergarten class. Like me, she was just transitioning from being a working mom to working from home with her kids. We found we had a lot in common, and our kids became very close, too.

Her response to my illness has been quite different. I'm sure she was similarly mystified and uncomfortable, unsure of what to say. But she didn't run away. She talked to me on the phone when I was too sick to go anywhere. She left me a care package during one bad week - some flowers picked from her yard, a book, and a note. No one else has ever done anything for me like that, and I was deeply touched. She even asked me one day, "I'd like to know more about your illness. Is there any information I could read about it so I can understand it better?" That meant so much to me, with so many other people around me wanting to just pretend nothing was different.

She's been by my side during that dark first year, through my diagnosis and adjustment to a new life, and she's now my closest friend. She's come to accept CFIDS as a part of my life, as I've had to myself. She doesn't get upset when I have to cancel plans because I'm having a bad day. We can talk for hours. She shares her own problems with me, so I feel it's a two-way relationship, instead of feeling guilty for being the needy one. She accepts me as I am.

One friend like this is worth more than all the fair-weather friends in the world.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog! I am fortunate to have a few friends who have really stuck with me. Anyone else - I'm better off without them. I hope you feel better tomorrow. - Jennie

Anonymous said...

So, I finally get around to reading your blog. I am so glad I did, you have a great one. I can't even imagine what it must be like to be dealing with CFS and raising children, not to mention raising a kid who also has CFS. You are what I would call a "super mum".

I know the fair weathered friends syndrome, very well. And while its hard to understand at first, the disappearing friend thing becomes a blessing. Friends should be there for you through good and bad. Not when its convenient for them. I personally review my address book every new years day, and if i my "friends" havent made any kind of effort, they are kicked out of my tribe. Of course, I need to make that effort as well.

Your good friend sounds to be exactly that. Thats excellent! One great friend is heaps better than a houseful of mediocre ones.

You can count me to be among your new friends....lets stay in touch...i will be lurking on your blog, as often as i can.