Keeping Myself and My Friends Through Chronic Illness
By: Allison Rosecast
Sometimes she’s familiar. She wears the same old sweater and has the same awkward laugh. She still wears that musky rose perfume and carries a beat-up moleskine. Her heart still races for that song by Björk, the first tree bursting into bloom in spring, the smell of palo santo burning. If you don’t look closely, she might seem like the very same girl. But if you catch her in the right light, you might see the dark bags beneath her eyes. If you catch her undressing, you might see the surgical scars on her stomach. If you catch her in the right moment, you might see she’s not you anymore.
Chronic illness is alienating, even for the person experiencing it. I don’t always feel like I recognize who I am. In just a few years, I’ve changed very quickly due to my health journey. Every day I’m adapting to a life that is always marked by pain, unpredictability, darkness, determination, resilience, and light. One of the greatest struggles is that this journey is so internal and invisible, from the pain to the changes in who I am as a person. Some friends have stayed with me or even found me in the haze of illness. Others only see the dissipating outline of a past self.
The friends I hold closest do two really important things: they acknowledge my illness and they also see who I am beyond it. They ask how I’m doing in a way that allows a genuine answer, creating a dialogue without expectations or fear of judgment. They make an effort to learn about my illness and the way I personally experience it. They are understanding when I have to cancel plans. They know my health impacts how I move through the world. Pain and exhaustion don’t just make it hard to do things I love, they make it hard to remember what I love. When I can’t see through the haze of illness, my closest friends remind me of who I really am, outside of what I am experiencing currently. They keep perspective; when I reach out in the haze, they can remind me of my direction, my plans and passions. They remember why we’re friends in the first place, what we have in common, what we have always shared, and they keep sharing those things. They help me live and thrive despite chronic illness by seeing it and also by seeing past it.
I burn palo santo and open my moleskine, pencil poised. I leaf through the pages and reflect on the girl who started filling them out a few years ago. I am less than her and more than her all at once. Chronic illness has taken many things from me, but it has also given me so much. Pain has given me determination, unpredictability has given me resilience, darkness has given me a deeper appreciation for light. My illness is an invisible journey marked by profound changes. The friends who have taken that journey with me have changed and helped me change for the better. Whether the haze lifts or not, I know what I need to keep sight of now.