Having Friends with an Autoimmune Disease

Everyone has to make different strokes to reach the same destination and some cost more than others.

I don’t really remember how I know the above line, so I’m not going to say I came up with it or anything. I think it though because it’s a simple reminder on how in any given situation (i.e. rowing across a river) we all have different ways we have to go about it and for some it costs more than for others. The reasons behind it can vary immensely.

This is the outlook I’ve applied more widely since finding out friends of mine have autoimmune diseases.

I’d like to point out that considering the road to getting a diagnosis can be a drawn out process: there’s a solid chance you may know someone with one- especially since they’re often dubbed ‘invisible illnesses’ meaning we don’t see outward effects. This can often lead to onlookers downplaying the symptoms someone is explaining to them- especially in the moment. I’m sure the phrase “But you look fine” is probably one of the most hated. 

In my case I have two friends who have been diagnosed with and are undergoing treatment for their diagnoses. At first…well I’m not entirely sure how I reacted when my first friend told me, but when my second friend did I just accepted it and asked about the general details since it varies so widely.

It has definitely been a trial and error run- especially with my first friend.

My main thing was to ask questions about just about anything. I never purposely tried to focus solely on medical and would go for the overall approach because it affects everything they do.

The next big thing for me was learning not to always try and give advice. Sometimes people just want to vent, so instead of trying to do the whole “Why don’t you-” route, I’ve learned to: step back, acknowledge that it sucks, ask what they are going to do, and then eventually slide into other topics because everyone has their limit of how much venting they can take.

After that it comes down to recognizing the toll it has on them and that there are times when my friend(s) will hit lows and shut down. My first approach/reaction to this was to constantly check in and let it stress me out. Now I just try to pop in every once in a while and mainly just let them know I’m there if they need it.

About a week ago I had a missed call from my second friend. When I called back I found out she was on the floor and couldn’t move her legs. She was experiencing a pain rooted in her tailbone radiating down both legs. She’d dragged herself out of bed and into the bathroom looking for pain killers. Her mom hadn’t picked up either, but about halfway through our call her mom was on the way to take her to the hospital.

It turned out she’d had a full blown CRPS flare up in her legs

Fast forward to two days ago when she asked if I could give her a lift. When I pulled up I saw she was using a walker and quickly got out to help. She said she needed to go to Walgreens so we headed on over, I picked up a few snacks for work and an extra box of Cheez-Its I saw her eyeing while she sorted out prescriptions. Once we reached her place I helped sort the dogs, make dinner, clean the kitchen, change the air filters, throw out the garbage, set up the nightstand (gotta put those Cheez-Its in close range), etc.

By the time I got home most of the evening was gone and I had to power through my to-do list. It was all good though because a friend needed me and I was able to ease a load of stress from her day. Who knows how long or painful it would of been for her to do it on her own meanwhile for me it was basically less than a minor inconvenience? The answer was so simple there wasn’t even a question to begin with.

I think the same way having friends from different social/cultural/economic backgrounds opens our eyes to things- differing health statuses do just as much, but for some reason it’s almost never considered in the list. This goes especially for autoimmune “invisible” illnesses.

I can never step into someone else’s shoes or fully understand their experience, but I can do my best to ease their situation when I’ve been made aware and it’s within my control to do so…Wow, how mushy and weird did this get? Am I right?

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

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