I've talked a lot in this blog about the way relationships shift or die out from complications relating to our chronic conditions, but in this post I'd like to discuss the flip-side of that issue. I'd like to tackle how cultivating deep relationships can actually prove to be a healing aspect on your journey through pain and illness. -ktg-
Pain is a difficult challenge on the best of days, but what many healthy people don't realize is often the most crippling thing about chronic pain is the utter isolation it creates. When other people your age are off making friends, growing in their chosen career, starting families, and living their lives, you are managing doctor appointments, counting prescriptions to see if you have enough to last to the end of the month, and trying to decide how many spoons you're willing to spend on taking a shower for the day.
This makes meaningful relationships difficult, but they are no less important. If anything, the extreme strain put on relationships from health problems actually highlights the fact that we are created as social beings. We are not designed to live by ourselves without a social support structure in place. We are meant to live in community and share our lives with others as they do with us.
This requires purpose and intentional choices. Deep, meaningful relationships will not just naturally develop for most people. You do not suddenly wake up one day and magically find lifelong friends popping up in your yard with the dandelions. Maintaining and sustaining relationships of this magnitude requires emotional investment, physical presence, gut-wrenching empathy, and in most cases a whole lot of time. Just because you've known someone's name and address for twenty years does not mean you know them. Just because you see someone everyday does not make you good friends. Years of small talk is really just...a whole lot of small talk at the end of the day. I don't know about you, but I don't feel especially close to people I can only discuss the weather with.
A difficult reality I am coming to these days is that true friendship is deciding whose struggles you're willing to take part in. Whose burden are you willing to take a piece of? Whose hopes and dreams are you willing to listen to for the fiftieth time? Whose sadness are you willing to weep over? Whose life do you want to care about? Whose children do you love like your own? Who will you spend time getting to know, even if it's hard?
This is relationship. This is what truly creates family. This is what makes those nights of sitting awake at 3am wishing for the comfort of sleep bearable. This is what makes you continue to sort out the pills when it would be easier to just give up. This is what makes the "good pain days" worth waiting for. This is what makes us human.