When we think about the effects of chronic illness, including autoimmune disease, we usually think about physical health first. Then, perhaps we acknowledge the mental & emotional toll it takes on the ill and their families. One thing not talked about as much is maintaining relationships when chronically ill. When you are sick, and maybe trying to heal or maintain health through AIP, you have to let some things slide. You have no choice. You must put your limited strength and time into the things immediately necessary to function. This means other aspects of your life suffer. One of the things that takes a hit is your friendships. You no longer have the same amount of strength and time to invest into relationships. When you throw AIP eating into the mix, and the fact that most social situations revolve around food, spending time with friends becomes even more difficult. It can also be hard for your friends to adjust to your new AIP lifestyle and your illness. It can be awkward for them, but it doesn't mean they don't care anymore. They may just not know what to do with you.
If you are feeling your health take a toll on your friendships, don't worry! It IS possible to stay connected with good friends. I'm not perfect and my illness has definitely impacted my relationships. Sometimes life with AI disease can feel very lonely. But I do have beautiful, caring friends whom I am very grateful for. Here are some of the things I try to work on so that I can maintain close relationships.
One of the simplest ways to maintain friendships, yet one of the hardest. Why does it seem so hard to communicate with others about our health? Autoimmune disease sufferers often have spent so much of their life trying to act "normal" and fit in, that it has become second nature. "Don't mention your disease, they'll think you're weird!" Or, "They will think I'm a wimp if I talk about how sick I feel." Do these thoughts sound familiar? I spent most of my 20s downplaying how ill I was; desperate not to be thought of as "lazy" or "weak". This isn't a healthy mindset. I am also not saying to go around talking about your illness all the time. Bad idea. But honest communication about our limitations with those that care about us is vital. I find this includes my husband. It's also hard on him that I can't be as social as I was. We talk openly about it and I encourage him to socialize even at times I can't. It works for us.
I find it helps to explain to friends that I want to spend time with them, it is just my body that prevents it sometimes. Let them know the basics of your disease, if they don't already. This will make them much more comfortable. A kind friend may be hesitant to ask you about your health because they don't want it to be awkward for you. When they know what you are dealing with, they will understand your strength and time limitations better. And a true friend will be willing to work around those with you. Why not come up with ways you can spend time together that doesn't sap your strength?
Take The Initiative
Just because friends don't call you or invite you out anymore doesn't mean you shouldn't reach out to them. Maybe they feel they are being thoughtful by not putting pressure on us to hang out. Or maybe they feel a little awkward about our health or AIP eating. Who knows. It doesn't really matter! If we care about them and want to talk to them or see them, call them! If we can't get together or even aren't up to talking on the phone, just a text can do wonders. Chances are they will text us back and we will realize we were being silly to think that they stopped caring about us. Yes, I speak from experience. Ha ha! So don't stew about why you haven't heard from your friends. Show them some kindness and check in on them.
Don't Be A Whiner
Ok, so this point should go without saying. But realistically we can all get a little whiny when we are sick all the time. My husband has (nicely) called me on this a few times. Then I have a good laugh at myself and smarten up! I try to keep this in mind for friendships, too. No one wants to be (or have) that friend who complains all the time. Self-absorbed and constantly talking about their health. I'm sure none of us are...but we can never be to careful. Right? Use time visiting with friends to have fun, catch up, be silly; not to dwell on how miserable we feel. This doesn't rule out honest communication, but let's not be a negative life sucker. Ha ha! Also, I think we should never, ever, let our own issues prevent us from being sympathetic to a friend's life and problems. We know how much we appreciate a listening ear and sympathetic word, so return the favour!
Bring Your Own Food, Throw Your Own Dinner, or Pick The Restaurant
Ok, so AIP eating can seem pretty daunting in a social situation. Don't let it stop you from being with your people!! It doesn't have to. If invited to a friend's, I like to bring my own food (or eat beforehand if it is just for snacks and not a meal invitation). This takes pressure of your friend hosting and ensures that you can eat without getting sick. It feels a little awkward the first time or two, but it gets easy. In a group setting, other people will ask you about it. I find its simplest to make a simple, direct comment about why I'm not eating the provided food. Maybe throw in a joke. Then I don't have to field funny looks and questions as I eat my food from home. More often then not, someone commends me for taking control of my health through my eating. So don't stress about it.
Another option is is to invite friends over. I know, we don't have the time or the energy...but it's better to see close friends in my messy, chaotic setting (tell me I'm not the only one) than not see them at all. Good friends won't care that you have no makeup on and your house is messy. They will just be happy with the invitation. I usually cook a beef roast or whole chicken when I have friends over. It's simple and no one thinks it's "weird". Score. Of course, I'm not up to it all the time, but when I can, I try to.
Something else I do is to try and have input on where we eat (if it is an eating out situation). I know the types of restaurants that will accommodate my AIP eating needs, my friends typically don't. So, if people suggest going out, say "Sure, do you think we could go here, or maybe there, because I know I can eat there." My friends have been nothing but accommodating. I just have to remember not to be shy about speaking up. It works! My husband is also great for this, he will speak up right away and suggest a place I can eat at. It helps to have informed people on your team. Your spouse or a good friend can be a very helpful ally in this.
If we have a friend who sticks by us through ups and downs, or at least tries to be understanding of our health, show gratitude! I know it's probably not easy being friends with me. I have to cancel plans due to health, and am not always up to talking or going out and doing stuff. So I truly appreciate my friends and really try to remember to tell them. Even if it is just a few appreciative words via text. Give out some warm fuzzies. Kind, sincere words go a long way in making a friendship last through tough times.
There you have it. That's what I try to do to maintain good friendships. I find it is immensely helpful! For my friendships and for my state of mind. What tips do you have for keeping up friendships and being social while chronically ill?
Let me know what you think!
The Emancipated Epicure, Bethany. I'm a Foodie & Autoimmune Warrior who loves to cook. Working at healing with the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol.
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