In October 2008, at the age of 24, I was diagnosed and hospitalized for Myasthenia Gravis, MG, a neuromuscular autoimmune hurricane disease. One of my long-time friends since high school, Ken, told me he would visit me at the hospital right away. I waited. And waited. Two weeks somehow became five years. I haven’t seen him since. Like a dozen of my high school friends, he attended the many annual Christmas parties I hosted pre-MG. While most people stuck by me, a few friends like Ken left. It hurt to look at old pictures because I wondered if those relationships were ever genuine. But I decided to keep them because it was real for me and, besides, I looked great in those pictures.
5 Reasons Friends Leave:
1. Fear of Death: Pardon my French but hearing that a friend has been diagnosed with a serious illness can scare the crap out of people. It forces them to confront their own mortality and acknowledge that we’re not in total control of our destiny.
2. Fear For Us: The irony is that some people love us so much that they are scared for us…too scared to stay. They can’t stand seeing a loved one in pain or watching that person die if he/she doesn’t make it.
3. Fake Friends: Five years into MG, I’ve gained perspective and realized some “friends” were never true friends—many of those relationships were one-sided. I was always giving while the other party was always taking. That being said, it’s also important not to make hasty judgments. Judge a friendship over time—not one moment in time. Even though I lost some friends after getting MG, that was not the case with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or Bipolar Disorder diagnoses. But my friend, Carol, who has Lupus and Bipolar Disorder, did lose friends after getting diagnosed with Bipolar. (Part of that is mental health stigma. When people are educated, however, some of them change and support their friends.)
4. Inexperience: Some friends who have not experienced loss cannot fathom our daily pain and fatigue. This is especially true when a friend has an invisible illness—diseases that cannot be seen. Examples of invisible diseases are mental illnesses like Depression and neurological disorders like Fibromyalgia. Some people with MG are told “but you don’t look sick” because they don’t carry a cane like I do for MG.
5. Dunbar’s Number: This is the least explored explanation. According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, our brains can only handle 148 meaningful relationships at one time. (Having 1,500 Facebook friends ≠ 1,500 meaningful relationships.) Have you ever had a moment when you ran into an old friend and reconnected instantly? It made you wonder how you ever lost touch; it’s possible that your friend had his/her own dragons to slay while you were fighting illness. Recently I left a church I attended for nineteen years. I’m making a concerted effort to make friends at my new church. As I make this transition and meet other people (like cool followers of this blog), I find it harder to maintain friendships from my old church though I’m trying my best. This is a complication that accompanies life-changing events like becoming sick, getting married, or having a child.
Being Open Despite the Pain
Because I have to work while juggling all my illnesses, a Herculean task, I don’t run after long-time friends who left . I let things evolve organically. For example, last year I ran into an old-friend, “T,” who never once visited me in the hospital or at home. It was confusing and painful. “T” and I used to go to concerts and movies together.
When we saw each other again, we had lunch. It was wonderful. But even now I’m not entirely sure why she left. Letting T back into my life has been a blessing. It’s up to each person whether he or she chooses to forgive. Either choice is understandable. I forgive because I am a Christian. Also I’d like to be forgiven if I make the same mistake one day. We’re all human and therefore fallible. Letting go of the bitterness and accepting that I may not get all the answers has been liberating.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno