When You Need A Friend
©1999 Lisa Lorden
"You looking good,"
in Beloved, by Toni Morrison
How many times have you heard, "But you don't look sick!" How does it make you feel? And how do you respond? In her article, "Looking Good, Feeling Bad," Geri Fosseen expertly describes the emotions that are a normal reaction to such comments: anger, confusion, shame. It seems that no matter how long we've coped with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, seemingly innocent comments from friends and strangers touch a wound that still feels amazingly raw.
Often the question I most dread hearing from an acquaintance is "How are you?" This seemingly innocuous ritual of polite conversation is fraught with complexity and emotion for me. I wish I could be like other people who can reply, "Fine thanks" without a second thought. But when discouraging and painful symptoms are overwhelming, this simple response feels like a lie. Besides, I'm usually concerned that people don't really want to know, that they will tire of hearing me talk about my illness, or that they'll think, "I can't believe you're still sick."
I have a couple of wonderful friends who ask me "how are you?" twice. The first time I respond like everyone else. Then they say, "okay, now how are you really?" Then I feel comforted, knowing they are truly interested and prepared to listen. But even when people do want to know, sometimes I'm tired of hearing myself talk about it.
In their book Sick And Tired Of Feeling Sick And Tired, Donoghue and Siegel point out, "where need is most pronounced, feelings are most intense." Coping with a poorly understood and invisible illness leaves us feeling lonely, vulnerable, and over-sensitive. Just as we struggle with an illness that is so difficult to understand, others find it even harder because they haven't experienced it.
At first many people are sympathetic. But as time passes, they may question the existence of an illness that is invisible and incurable, or they may simply feel too uncomfortable to acknowledge and understand it. Author and CFS sufferer, Katrina Berne, says "Our society encourages denial of all things unpleasant, especially those we fear or cannot readily understand."
Without visible signs of pain and illness, we're often left feeling the need to explain or even over-emphasize symptoms around others. Desperately wanting to get well, yet wanting clear signs of illness to validate our pain and fatigue, we're left with a sense of confusion and self-doubt. Around others, it's difficult to know how to act because we're caught between contradictory wishes: wanting to appear normal and wanting to be understood. So what can we do?
these feelings of frustration, confusion, and sadness are natural.
Understand and accept
your changing needs, and realistically evaluate who can help you.
feelings and needs to people with whom you are close.
Maintain a balance
of friendships with PWCs and others who are not sick.
others might be struggling with problems and feelings of their own.
about things that are helpful.
Most of all, remember that you are never alone. There are always people to whom you can reach out, whether they are right next to you or across the Net in other part of the world. As Joseph Addison said, "Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joy, and dividing our grief." We all need a friend.
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© 1994-2014 Melissa Kaplan or as otherwise noted by other authors of articles on this site