She has seen me the morning after a night out, bleary eyed and shuffling around our shared university halls kitchen barely stringing a sentence together.
She has seen me dancing as if no-one is watching, probably making an utter fool of myself in doing so, sometimes without even a drop of alcohol in my system to blame for the shapes I’ve been throwing on the dancefloor.
She has seen me cry snotty ugly tears over a silly ex-boyfriend. She’s even, god bless her soul, scooped my vomit out of a public toilet sink when I didn’t quite make it to the toilet after too much rosé – a drink I then avoided for a good five or six years! She has attempted to take my contact lenses out for me. She’s sat and eaten Bird’s Eye fish fingers and oven chips when it was my turn to cook, when really they don’t even count as real food to her. In recent years she has pushed me along in my wheelchair when I am a whole seven inches taller and a hell of lot heavier than her.
She has seen me confined to my horrible single student bed, sick as a dog, when I was once prescribed laxatives for an issue we really don’t need to discuss today.
She really has seen me warts and all.
So why do I get so worried about her seeing me now? Now that I am bonafide, DWP-diability-benefits-approved, neurologist-diagnosed, chronically ill.
A part of me is still convinced that the majority of friends who are still in my life, have stuck with me through pity alone. I sometimes feel genuinely baffled by why my friends are still my friends. How heartbreakingly sad and awful is that? Friendship is a two way thing, but what do I give?
I remember, years ago now on my 23rd birthday (which was a children’s tea party to poke fun at my now seemingly-childlike life) thanking a group of friends, as a few tears escaped from my ever-grateful eyes, for still bothering with me. One friend actually laughed because she couldn’t quite understand why I would feel the need to thank them.
They say they’re just doing what friends do. But that in itself is rather heroic when you’re friends with someone like me I feel.
“But we really don’t do anything Jones!”
Oh but you do!
I haven’t been cast aside. I remain one of the group. They treat me the same as they always did, except that now they make allowances. I don’t have to lift a finger in their presence. If there’s a birthday party coming up they’ve already got a plan of action in place (and an M.E-friendly one at that!) I cancel plans more often than I keep them but still they keep asking me to join them. They’ve taken me for blood tests and seen my pass out in my wheelchair afterwards. They’ve taken it in turns to push the wheelchair over gravel and bumpy grass which are heroic feats in themselves.
I don’t see them that often. We’re all grown ups now who (mostly) have jobs and children and weddings to plan and mortgages to pay, and obviously I have to space activities out on a scale that’s laughable. But they’re still there. The university girls. The school gang.
The friend I’m seeing today drives almost two hours to visit me. (I have another friend who does the same and is coming in a few weeks time. They are wonderful.) Without meaning to, I put pressure on myself to make it worthwhile for her. It’s a long way to come to sit in silence and try to offer sympathy to someone who has an incurable illness. So I try try try not to be like that. In truth, excitement takes over and the thrill of seeing another human being makes every single worry and fear I had before they arrived disappear. But those worries return soon after they’ve left. Did my sentences make sense? Did I ramble on? I worry that I interrupt people and stop the conversation from flowing because I blurt things out as they come into my head or my memory troubles will make me forget what it was I wanted to say. I worry that makes it seem like I’m not listening properly; like I don’t care. I do. Perhaps too much.
Those friends who travel so far are two of only a handful of people in my life who I feel I can have sleepovers with. I have been brave enough, and I do genuinely see it as bravery, to have them stay over at my house since I’ve been unwell. I have fought the anxiety over letting them see me first thing in the morning when I can’t even always speak. I have then fought the anxiety that comes if I am actually well enough to speak; the anxiety that tries to convince me that they’ll see me as a fake and a fraud for describing how much my illness impacts on me at any given time, when in reality I seem perfectly functional to them.
I worry about what we will do while they’re here when they is no firm curfew within which they will leave by. Should we be going out for dinner? Or lunch? Or shopping? I can’t regularly and reliably do those things. Just having company counts as over-doing it anyway if I’m perfectly honest, but a girl has to live a little sometimes!
What if I need to be in bed? What if I am just too unwell for their company mid-way through their visit? What if I crash after eating like I sometimes do? What if, what if, what if?
I’ve always been sensible (if you skirt over a few silly drunken nights at university) but now I worry that I am just downright, mind-numbingly boring. I don’t know how to BE anymore. I have been out of mainstream society for so long. What do people talk about?
I have no hobbies really. My health doesn’t quite allow me to develop them. I like reading, but I so often can’t manage it. I like films, but I mostly have to rewatch ones I’ve already seen because they require less concentration and cognitive function. It’s quite hard to see yourself as anything other than an M.E sufferer or a chronically ill young woman when you do so little. In our society you are defined by what you do; how productive you are. I do a whole lot of nothing…
A wonderful piece of advice I received once from an Occupational Therapist was to just ask people about themselves and then proceed to talk about them. So many people will then offload to you about work…
The point of this post though, and what I’m trying to say to myself is this,
Let people love you Anna. They still see your worth even when you, wrongly, cannot see it.
Things are different from how they were but different doesn’t automatically mean bad. None of your friends are exactly the same as they were the day you met them are they? Does that make them unworthy of friendship?
To you things may well seem worse; you may feel like a diluted version of your true self. But if a friend sticks around after willingly touching your vomit, then a quiet night in, where you may well be slumped on the sofa unable to hold a riveting conversation because a) you feel you don’t have anything of importance to share anymore and b) your M.E. restricts you from even conversing sometimes, probably sounds incredibly appealing to said friend.
There is no pressure. She is coming to see you, whatever version of you that may be.