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What Supportive Friendships Look Like When You're Chronically Ill

My relationship with gratitude and chronic illness is complicated. It’s hard to be grateful for something that has upended my life on more than one occasion, so I do not try to force it. (No, thank you, toxic positivity!) And yet I can also say that my chronic illness has caused me to confront some big issues and has sharpened my focus on what’s important and worth my energy and time.

Many chronic illness warriors are familiar with spoon theory and the idea that chronically ill people do not have boundless energy or as many usable hours in the day as able-bodied individuals; pushing ourselves can lead to flares and even more lost time. What I’ve learned about myself over the past year is that I used to spend a lot of energy and time on people and in places that didn’t bring me joy or fulfillment; I simply showed up because I was too polite to say “no” or stand up for myself and what I really needed. Now that my energy is truly limited and unpredictable, I’m learning the importance of honoring myself and my needs.

When I spend time with someone, I am actively choosing them and am most often accepting that that hang-out session, chat, lunch, or dinner will likely result in a rise in symptoms. This grim reality has led me to re-evaluate and cultivate my circle of loved ones and friends. I think about Brené Brown a lot, particularly her words on friendship. She writes:

I don’t have a literal list of names in my wallet, but I do have them in my heart. These are the epic humans willing to show up and sit in the middle of the mess with me, hear me, hold me, and see me for my authentic self. They are the people who don’t rely on empty platitudes as a crutch and instead accommodate my needs and show their love for me in concrete

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