When you have a chronic illness it often means you are unable to complete the basic tasks expected of a good friend. I have struggled to be there for people when they’re struggling and give them sound advice without judging. It’s very easy to become self-absorbed when you’re unwell; you’re stuck in a little bubble of pain all the time and sometimes other people’s problems pale in comparison. I still struggle with getting out of my head (literally ha ha) and realising the world doesn’t revolve around me and my latest migraine. I want to talk about friendship a little bit – in the context of being chronically ill but also with the acknowledgement that everyone has things that hold them back and prevent them from being a ‘good’ friend sometimes.
It would be easy to make this column angry and bitter, a list of people who wronged me and the intricate ways in which our friendship fell apart. But I don’t think that would feel good. Or, maybe it would feel great for a little while and then I’d wake up at three o’clock in the morning a month later and feel like a bitch. In truth, I just liked the clickbait-y title. I have never been in an abusive friendship and the highs and lows that I have had with friends are all, in hindsight, a pretty normal part of growing up. Female friendships are honestly one of the best things in the world, but the intensity that comes with them has, for me, had both its pros and cons.
I don’t think that there is a hero and a villain in every ‘friend breakup’. Often, someone is more at fault than the other person, but everyone plays their part; it’s difficult to be a good friend to someone who is treating you badly. I don’t think each friend needs to be giving 50% all the time to make up that 100% ideal friendship: sometimes people are having a hard time and need to pull back, giving 25% or so. BUT, the other person then needs to start willingly giving 75% in order for the friendship to stay good, and that can only happen if they know that their pal will do the same for them when they need it. This numbers metaphor is confusing me just as much as you, but I need to make my word limit so it’s staying in. Essentially, it’s easy to show up for people when you know they would do the same for you. Everybody deserves a best friend who would run through the airport for them without hesitation, not someone who would run through the airport for them thinking Wow I bet Britney wouldn’t do this for me she is actually kind of a bitch. Having a chronic illness means that you are often the one giving the 25% and it can feel like you have more problems than anyone in the world. This is not true. You might have a headache all the time, but all your friends are still going through breakups and bad jobs and breakdowns; you can still show up for them in your own way.
I believe that illness can be used as a valid excuse for some things: cancelling plans, going home early, leaving a text unread. However, I do not think that illness can be used as an excuse for treating people unkindly or being cruel. I don’t think I’m a perfect friend, or an easy one, but I am certainly quite suspicious of other people who say they are. If you have to preach about your empathy or compassion, I am, honestly, very unconvinced that you are blessed with either. I have flaws that I have only recognised in myself in the past year or so and I’ll probably realise a few more before the year is out. I’m a bit of a gossip, I’m self-obsessed and I can be careless. But my illness is not a flaw and being unwell does not make me a bad friend. Writing this column has made me feel sad and nostalgic for my past friendships where I didn’t always give the person as much as I could. If any of you are reading this: call me and let’s go for a coffee! Unless you still hate me, in which case why are you reading this anyway? Log off.
[Madeline Docherty – she/her – @Maddydocluvs1D]