Words by Susie, 23 QLD
Humans are naturally social creatures, so making connections with others is incredibly important. But there comes a point where we can give more than we get, and it is necessary for our own wellbeing to realise which relationships are bleeding us dry and which are worth keeping.
I started to become aware of this about five years ago when I was diagnosed with a chronic health condition. I had just finished high school and as my health declined, I began to lose a lot of friends.
I felt isolated and alone.
Relationships and chronic illness aren’t quite a match made in heaven. Chronic conditions and invisible illnesses (both mental and physical) are tough to explain because you “look fine”. The power of make-up has saved me many times from looking how I actually feel.
But, then again, it also makes me feel like I am hiding who I am and what I am going through.
Due to my illnesses I couldn’t go out much, so my friends went without me. After a while I stopped getting invites and over time, they seemed to forget to message me at all. The situation may have been different if I had honestly opened up about what I was battling with, but I couldn’t bear to begin explaining the struggles I was facing. It was hard for me to admit that I couldn’t walk to the bathroom alone or that I needed help to be fed.
Every few months, I would message my friends or try to see them, usually when I felt better, but I still felt incredibly isolated. My friends knew I was sick and that I had to drop out of university, but they didn’t know the full story. Being the ‘sick’ friend, I felt as though I was the difficult one in my friendships. I felt as though because I couldn’t always catch up with them, it was therefore my responsibility to put in more effort to keep the friendship alive. I would check in with them and talk about their day-to-day lives, but they barely knew anything about my everyday life. It was hard to express what I was dealing with, especially when they never asked. The few times I did share my health issues, they became awkward and uncomfortable.
After a while I became fed up with investing time, energy and love into people who no longer appreciated or reciprocated it. I felt I needed to start standing up and protecting myself. So, I came up with a new rule for my relationships known as the equal give and take.
I started to use this rule for relationships where I felt I was becoming drained, used or not appreciated. When using this rule, it’s important to remember to take a step back and view the recent events objectively.
- Do you both put in effort to catch up?
- Are you there for them?
- How often are they there for you and in what ways?
When possible, try to give as much as you take.
It is also important to remember that if your friends appear to ‘look fine’ but are slack at replying to messages, don’t rule them out straight away.
Always reach out, check on them and ask them how they are because you never really know what someone is going through. I cannot tell you how much I would have appreciated someone checking in on me, especially when I couldn’t go out due to my unpredictable health.
Losing a friend is one of the saddest emotional experiences I have endured. The end of some friendships felt like I was also losing all the memories we had made, and the love we shared. It broke my heart.
Still, I stepped back from the situation and reflected on the relationship objectively. I started putting the same amount of effort into the relationship as the other person did. In time, some relationships sadly died out. But if a relationship is meant to be, it will thrive again. We need to be mindful of draining our precious love and energy on someone who doesn’t appreciate us. Instead we should use this energy on loving and developing ourselves.
Luckily, years later, some friends have come back into my life.
I think sometimes friendships are meant to take their own course and people need time apart to grow in their own directions.
If you are feeling isolated in your relationships right now, please know that no matter what, you are not alone in this. And remember someone else’s lack of effort is not a reflection on you or your worth.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, your people are out there, and you will find them.