Bikinis, Battle Scars, & Warm, Woolen Mittens
I’ve been writing this post in my head for months – since January! Somehow it never got written, and then new things kept happening that I thought should be included… and suddenly it was November. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so I am determined to finally get this post written and online. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to post it.
Living with a chronic illness often means that we are forever bemoaning the loss of yet another person who has jumped ship from our lives. While this sentiment is often justified, I sometimes feel as if I spend so much time focusing on those moments that I forget to truly appreciate the friends that have stuck around and understand what my life is like. Sometimes this understanding is blatantly obvious in the form of gifts and such, but other times it can only be found by reading between the lines.
I don’t really send my blog link out to people that I actually know in real life very often. I pour so many honest, personal feelings into my posts that everyone knowing them would just feel awkward and like a violation of my privacy. Of course, that means that people only know what I’ve actually told them, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t always very much. Still, sometimes I get off-hand comments from people I’m not close to anymore telling me that they saw something on my blog. That always shocks me, because I sent them the link such a long time ago, and we’ve drifted so far since then, that I didn’t even realize they still look at it. Likewise, I have an old friend that I barely even keep in touch with beyond a big group dinner or drinks when she’s in town for Thanksgiving. Yet a couple of years ago, she told me that when she heard about the lupus she spent a lot of time learning about it online. She’s nowhere near the only person that told me she looked into it, but she was the one that shocked me the most because I’d never talked to her about it even once.
Way back last January, I met up with a close friend for dinner. She made a comment that stuck with me. She told me that when she, and our third friend, say, “How are you?” That means that I can gripe about my illness, or I can just say that I’m fine. Or I can ignore it altogether and just talk about work or the weather, and all of those options are perfectly ok. Those three words are so disarmingly simple. Just “How are you?” We say them all the time, sometimes even to strangers. But we don’t always mean them. They’ve become an extension of the standard “hello” greeting. Or, even when we do mean them, sometimes we don’t really want all the details. Over the years, I’ve learned which friends need me to skip over the illness-related realities, because I can see that they’re visually uncomfortable.
The funny thing is, those sorts of statements and questions are so generic that it’s easy to miss the depth of their meaning. It’s not so much what the words are as what they represent. I love when I get texts from a friend saying things like, “Thinking of you in this turn of cold weather.. Hope you’re doing alright.” It’s comforting to know that the sender cares and is aware of how my body reacts to this kind of weather…. but she doesn’t require a definite response. I don’t have to muster up the right way to say, “I’m holding up ok.” or “Yeah, it really sucks.” At the same time, now I can do so if I need to, without feeling as if I’m mucking up someone’s day with whiny texts.
The weight gain caused by my medications was something that I really struggled with. Losing the weight was a huge struggle too. Now, even though I’m more or less satisfied with my weight, I’m still self-conscious about the stretch marks that all the weight changes left behind. Honestly, last summer was the first time I’d worn a swimsuit, let alone a bikini. I was a little uncomfortable with it, but I knew that I was safe with my friends. I still made an awkward off-hand comment about the fact that I try to think of them as something along the lines of battle scars. They didn’t bat an eye. All I got were grins, chuckles, and a new conversation topic. And, frankly, I doubt that they even remembered the comment, but their reaction was so natural that I stopped feeling awkward about all the marks.
When another close friend of mine went on vacation to Machu Picchu, she came back with gifts for some of her friends. She’d chosen unique gifts for each person, based on what she thought they’d like best. She handed me a pair of thick woolen mittens, commenting that she remembered how much I’d struggled with the truly brutal winter we suffered through last year. Sometimes I think maybe people just sort of space out when I start talking about things like how brutal winter weather is for me… and sometimes they really do. I see their eyes glaze over. It’s times like that one, though, that I feel like I’m about to cry. In a good way (yes, boys, there IS a good way), because those moments remind me that there are people who are paying attention and who actually remember and care about what I said.
The other day a friend commented that I didn’t really have anyone to talk to when I was going through the whole diagnosis process. She meant that I didn’t have anyone who’d actually been diagnosed with lupus to talk to, but my response was, “Well, but I had you.” and I meant it. There is something to be said for talking with someone who’s actually been through this stuff, but it’s also easy to underestimate the importance of the continued support of the people that have always been there for you. You expect that those people will be around for you, so you aren’t shocked except if they suddenly aren’t anymore.
It’s hard to tell whether these people realize how much these little things mean to me. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate, because I’m not sure that there are really words for those feelings of love, and belonging, and reassurance (yet those words just don’t seem to encompass the feelings completely either.) I would say that “friendship,” is supposed to encompass all of those feelings, but that just seems cheesy. So I will just say this: to those of you I mentioned in this post, and to the rest of you who are equally important (but I had to stop myself before I wrote an entire book,) this is me saying that I’m thankful. I’m thankful, and I’m very, very grateful even if I don’t always manage to say so. I couldn’t have dreamed up better friends had I tried.