I've been thinking this evening about the impact that my disabilities have had on my friendships. This is a very hard thing for me to think about, especially when it means that I have to admit failures or weaknesses that have cost me friendships.
I've been on the phone a lot this weekend--on the phone with people I haven't talked with very much in quite a while. A lot of things happened in my life during the time when my health was going downhill, and I found myself migrating toward people who I knew were strong enough and mature enough to handle the state I was in ... and I let other friendships languish. I wish so much that I could change this now. A few people confronted me about it over the years, sometimes gently and sometimes angrily. I don't blame them, and I'm not surprised they didn't believe me when I told them it wasn't their fault. I wasn't doing anything to communicate otherwise. That didn't make their feelings true, but it didn't help to bolster the friendships and protect them from damage either--and it couldn't be solely the other people's responsibility to "be understanding" and thus save the friendships for me, especially when I was someone they looked up to in the first place because they were young or hurting. I bear at least some responsibility in the damage that was done, and in a lot of cases I need to take some serious lessons. I need to be honest with my friends about what's happening in my life, even if it hurts or scares me to talk about with them. If I don't feel strong, I need to admit it and trust them to not lose their respect for me. The fact that I was strong in the past doesn't mean I can be God--and chances are they don't expect me to be. I'm the one who expects that of me.
What brought all this up? One of the friendships that I still haven't salvaged is one of the ones that meant the most to me. I knew this, but I didn't realize how much it meant until this week. I spoke to a mutual friend about reestablishing contact, and I realized that my phone call might be too painful for the other person because of the impact of my failure to nurture the friendship. I still remember the last conversation I had with her, the pain I heard in her voice... I knew that I had hurt her, and I was afraid that she didn't really want my friendship anymore. I should have apologized then. I should have explained what was happening to me. I wish I had known how. But that's part of the problem.
At that point in my life, I was living so much of the time in a haze of physical and emotional pain that I often couldn't communicate clearly for very long. I was coming down with bronchitis/pneumonia several times a year that would linger for three to five weeks at a time, and I remember very little from those times except being afraid of dying from the coughing fits. The migraines came several times a week, and I now have to wonder how often I had seizures. I didn't chart them because at the time I believed the doctor's diagnosis that everything was related to migraines. My mood cycling was very out of control, and even now it's difficult for me to handle. Reading my journal from five and six years ago, I don't know how I coped with it... I slept a lot, cried a lot... And from 2000 to early 2003, I tried to work, too. I must have been tired A LOT.
I've been trying to find out whether there is hope for reestablishing contact... I've been realizing how much of her life I've missed, how badly my failure hurt her, how badly I could hurt her by trying to say I'm sorry. I can hear my mom telling me I'm obsessing. I cry almost every time I say her name... That sounds so pathological! It's not supposed to be. It's not about a "person obsession." It's about the fact that I don't take friendships lightly and I'm having to confront something that points to either a very serious illness that occurred in my life or a very serious character flaw.
In a way, it would be easy for me to say that I just should have done better at holding up my end of the friendships. Right now I feel fairly well, and that's an easy thing to say: I was irresponsible. But saying that is very disrespectful to the me who endured all that illness. I have forgotten what it was like to live through those days fighting for every breath; wondering whether I was sitting in a chair or hanging from the ceiling and having to use something other than my sense of direction to tell me the answer; taking five minutes to walk from the bed to the bathroom while holding on to the nearest wall because I couldn't stand up without support; trying to ignore the hallucinations that come during the periods of severe depression and choose not to act on the impulses to harm myself; crying myself to sleep because I was afraid that I would become more and more disabled and have no one but my parents and sister, who have their own busy lives to live and are often frustrated and emotionally drained by my needs, to care for me. I can't disrespect myself that way. Why am I still on SSI, and what have I been doing all this time? I've been fighting for my life, sometimes almost literally. Most of this has been a struggle that no one knew about--I don't advertise to anyone that I'm afraid the coughing won't stop in time for me to take a breath or that I'm thinking about hurting myself. I didn't ask my parents to stay home with me after surgeries or during the times when I was so sick with pneumonia. I don't tell them about every migraine; and for the past 20 years, I have refrained from telling them about the vast majority of the seizure symptoms. I was supposedly not sick anyway, so I assumed this was my battle to fight alone. Even my eye difficulties have become tiring for family to deal with. Driving me to and from appointments takes time, especially when the appointments are with specialists out of state. After a surgery, those appointments can occur as often as once a week. The cost of this to me is a burden of guilt for having the need for transportation and support. If I were to mention this, my family would tell me not to feel guilty; but that is much easier said than done. in the same way that they want to fix what ails me, I want to fix what bothers or inconveniences them--and I could if only I could become well. Since my illnesses and disabilities persist despite treatments which in some cases should have worked with no problems, the emotional cost to me is very high. I remember that my friends have said that they are always available, and I know that they have never been unavailable; but my trust in this availability is threatened by the painful breakdown of my family relationships. I never thought that I would keep the details of my feelings or experiences from my family--I certainly don't want to.
I am becoming more willing to ask friends to sit with me via phone when I'm not well. My parents think it's a bit odd, but it's what's available to me. I remember calling a friend once at 4:00 in the morning when I had bronchitis. I was afraid to call; but I knew she was awake--fortunately she was a "night owl"--and I was more afraid of not calling. I had awakened gasping for breath and continued to gasp even after rising. I was afraid to go back to sleep. I was 21 years old, and I didn't want to die in my apartment alone. Now I am much more comfortable calling someone when I have to walk down the stairs with the dog when I'm dizzy or having any other problem that affects my ability to get down safely. But in some ways I am still just beginning to learn that it's ok to reach out. It's still hard to tell someone that I'm experiencing a period of emotional instability that has no identifiable cause or that I am reacting much more strongly to something than I would normally expect. It is especially hard to tell anyone, even my therapist, that I'm having thoughts of harming myself. I work hard to fight them off because I don't WANT to do anything of the sort! The thoughts are intrusive, and I treat them as temptations or indications of the severity of my depression and that's all.
The more my energy goes toward managing these things, the more introspective I become and the more I find myself drawn toward people who "refill me." Somehow I need to find a way to let other friends know that I need extra support during my difficult times, and I need to also communicate to them that this doesn't mean that I want them to stop talking to me about their lives because I do still care.
Do I really want to post this as a public post...? Part of me does. I'm tired of doing this in secret. I don't want to air all my dirty laundry to the world; but at the same time part of me also thinks that part of the reason I'm feeling so much pain about this is because it isn't just my little struggle. Illness does this to a lot of people's relationships, and a lot of people don't get to bounce back and say this.