Wrote this back in 09 on Daventry Blue.
Even old friends fade away when you get seriously ill. I discovered this a while back. That moment that you tell them that you are sick and there’s a chance that you might not recover, an invisible wall begins to go up. From that day forward, you will be seen as “different from them” even after you recover. Tip-toes and egg shells. That’s the feeling.
I had some very good friends in college. The best I’d ever made. But even those friendships could not shout through the invisible wall of illness. By the time I was better (never well, but better), the distance was too great to repair most of the strained relationships. There was so much space between us. Too much had happened in our lives. We were different people who had experienced different realities.
Death and illness are the most unwelcome of things in a young person’s reality.
Every so often I will be contacted from someone I knew in high school or college via Facebook or one of the various forms of slightly annoying, cloyingly urgent messaging services. (You must answer it! You must!) The usual banter ensues: what are you up to, how’s life, etc. I try to put off saying “I had brain surgery” for as long as possible, but eventually it has to come out. You’ve no idea what an amazing bug-be-gone that is. Usually, I never hear from said friend again. It’s happened quite a few times.
Honestly, though, I can understand the need to back away from illness. I sense the awkwardness even over the internet. People’s experiences with illness echo down through the years. To see a sick friend, someone who had once been so vibrant, can’t help but resound in someone’s head “This was your father or grandmother. This could be you.”
When I had my surgery, many of my friends came to offer support. This was kind and unexpected. I hadn’t seen some of them for a couple of years. After the surgery, though, we’ve pretty much vanished from each other’s lives completely. Diverging paths. Again, it was expected.
My biggest issue in dealing with my illness had nothing to do with my past friendships, but with people I knew (family and therapists) who kept continuously telling me how I SHOULD look at things. I hold to the belief that no one has the right to tell you how you SHOULD feel about something, in fact, they have never experienced anything on the realm of you’re going through. It just doesn’t seem possible to me for most people to have the empathy to understand. If you want to give a trauma victim hope, find someone who knows where the victim is coming from. I don’t want a drop-dead gorgeous doctor telling me I should be happy to be alive. Fuck off, Mr. Perfect!
I had a doctor at the physical therapy hospital I was recuperating at in New Albany, Indiana tell me that I was a lost cause. He said this having woken me up at two in the morning, examining my legs for movement as if he were checking on livestock. I don’t know if he thought I was asleep or not, but I wanted to knock the shit out of him for his flippant remark. I also had a physical therapist at the very same hell hole tell me to not expect too much in terms of recovery. Needless to say, this dampened my spirit. But only for a bit.
You see, I’m a stubborn bitch. I knew I had a strong will. I also knew that every body was different. No two people react the same to any given treatment. After having laid in that damn place for three weeks, sometimes only allowed out of bed (and I counted) 15 minutes day (far less than I knew I should or could be doing), I checked my floppy self out of the hospital against their wishes. I was walking in a week. I was back to the gym within a month.
When I was in that soul-sucking den, I didn’t get a single visit from a friend. At the time, it didn’t occur to me because I was so intent on getting better. But now, I understand that as a turning point. Maybe my friends sensed it as well. One life was ending, another beginning. I understood that certain friendships had to be put to rest because the person who I had become could find no further growth in many of those relationships. I could see clearly the artificiality of certain connections I had once thought so important.
So, here I am. It’s been lonely at times, the recovery, this new Being, and I hope in the end it will be worth the sacrifices. I feel like I’m starting to surface again, but it’s not going to happen overnight. I have different friends now, but I still miss the old ones sometimes, and the old me. It’s like standing at a door that’s about to shut for good and waving to everyone on the other side. No words of goodbye (because what words can describe that ache in the throat), only smiles and nods and thoughts of what had been but can’t ever be again.