Chronic Disease & Friendships

Last updated: August 2016

Chronic disease can often push the limits of friendship and if you’re reading this as a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, you may have experienced this in one form or another.  There are the friends who just don’t know what to say and they silently leave your friendship behind after a few obligatory ‘what can I do to help?’ offerings.

Then there are the friends who try their best as they know it, but for the present they often stumble over the all-too often heard line ‘you look so good, you must not be feeling so bad.”  It is hard for many people to understand the ‘look so good’ disease status and why we just can’t push on for that extra event or activity.

We would like to think that those of us who have MS are the only ones subject to the shifting winds of friendship, but this human shortcoming is not exclusive to those of us with MS.  My daughter has recently suffered in silent pain in her own form of ‘but you look so good,’ thanks to a severely herniated disk.  She has continued to shower, dress nicely and comb her hair to be presentable, all the while feeling truly awful,  waiting for the pain meds to kick in.

She has struggled with her own friends’ lack of understanding why she would rather stay in for a quiet evening than go out for music and dancing.  They tell her how good she looks and prod her to ignore her own instincts to head out for a social event that will in the long run cost her in pain and energy.

Even more difficult than the physical pain of her condition is the emotional toll that she has experienced from the disappearing friends.  These are the same people who have sworn allegiance through thick or thin, but suddenly don’t know what to say or can’t be bothered with altering their routine to include her with her limitations. We all know asking for help is humbling and something few of us do easily and I know how difficult it was for her to post on Facebook that she was counting on her friends to keep her spirits up as she is confined and tries to heal.

We talked recently about the similarities of her condition and mine, particularly how she now understands from her own health experiences that I am not simply slacking on being active and that the simple acts of daily life can exhaust both her and me. We both ‘look so good.’  I haven’t broached the disappearing friends’ similarities with her, and have instead just listened to her express the disappointments that continue to come her way.

She has surgery scheduled to correct the back problem and all our fingers and toes are crossed, hoping this will be successful.  In a few months she should be back into her routine, but the lessons she has learned about chronic illness and its effect on relationships will probably stick with her forever. I’m sure the next time a friend issues a request for companionship in tough times, she will respond – but she has always been that way.

Unfortunately, whether it is chronic disease like MS or curable ones that take serious medical intervention, health problems can create these silent divides.  I hope you have not found yourself in that position and have friendships that endure the challenges of changing health.

Wishing you well,


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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