I’m often asked about how to live with chronic illness and still make plans with friends and have a busy social schedule without wanting to disappoint anyone. My friend, how do you want to spend your precious energy?
Here’s some advice I have for you, accumulated from my own and others’ experiences:
- Wear good shoes and clothes so you can move as comfortably as possible. I know orthopedic shoes aren’t as nice looking, but it’s more important to feel good than to look good. Period.
- If you have dietary restrictions, make sure to eat at least a bit of food before getting to events so you don’t run into the uncomfortable moment of “oh crap, I can’t eat any of the food you’re offering and now we both feel really awkward about it. And I’m hungry and angry.”
- If you feel comfortable, be open about the basics of your condition with the host(s) of the event, letting them know that you may have to leave early or sit instead of stand during most of the event. I bring a small pillow with me to help with my back pain and just make myself comfortable in a chair near the center of the action so I feel involved but not in more pain than I have to.
- Be realistic rather than optimistic when it comes to planning your calendar. Are you really going to be able to go to x number of events in one weekend without overdoing it and hurting yourself in the process? If you know you have 3 things in one day, chances are you will have to pick just 1 or 2 of them (or sometimes 0, depending on the type of pain you’re in). For the ones that I can’t get to, I invite the host to a lunch date or something instead to preserve the connection I would have had with them at the party. That way I don’t end up feeling left out.
- Forgive yourself if you need to leave early, show up late, sit down, distract yourself on your phone, or take a few minutes outside if things are overwhelming. Forgive yourself if you don’t want to go or be there at all. Forgive yourself if you feel awkward. It’s okay. You’re in a different situation from the average person and that’s okay.
- Make sure the timing of the event won’t mess with your medication or treatment schedule. I basically say no to anything after 11 PM because I know I need good sleep to feel good.
- Save your spoons for people you value the most. This is a hard lesson to learn, but it’s important: as someone with chronic illness, you don’t have unlimited energy and you can’t have countless friends because of that. Your love may be boundless, but your ability to give it in meaningful ways to countless people is not. That’s okay. That means the events you choose to go to are extra special. The people whose lives you still grace with your presence are blessed that you choose to spend part of your precious energy on them.
- Above all, be honest with yourself. What do you feel? What do you want to do the most?