To the friends of a person living with a chronic illness (in this case, me)

Dear friend,

I know when you first met me, you had no idea what went on beneath my skin.

I know that the first time I told you I was having surgery, or the first time you asked about my scars and you heard just how many operations I’ve had, it came as an almighty shock. Especially because I’m so pedantic about hiding my chronic illness as best I can, but also committed to being as honest as I can be when asked about it.

There have been times where I’ve felt like I’m falsely advertising myself to prospective new friends. Here you are, meeting this bright, vivacious young woman, brimming with love and appreciation for life, when underneath all that, I’m not as shiny. There are moments where I feel so far from jubilant, like I wish I could curl up and let the pain stop.

But I’m aware I’m not the only person my illness affects.

I’m writing today to apologise to you, for all the times that my chronic illness has impacted on your life.

I’m sorry for the tears you may have cried when my surgery went wrong, and complications dragged it out hours beyond when you expected to hear from me. I’m sorry for the seemingly never-ending wait where you didn’t know if you’d see me again.

I’m sorry for the times I’ve called you sobbing, crying and screaming unintelligibly as the sadness consumed me. I’m sorry for the times I’ve fainted, and you’ve had to catch me, or nurse me in a concussed state.

I’m sorry for the anxiety that has followed my physical illness, for the panic attacks you’ve witnessed, and the emotional strain they caused. I know seeing me like that must be terrifying, and so incredibly hard, and you’re so strong and kind for sticking with me while I shake, cry and hyperventilate.

I’m sorry for the anxiety that I’ve caused you, and for the toll I’ve taken on your body and mind.

I’m sorry that you have had to see me in helpless, sick states, and felt there was nothing you could do.

But I want to thank you.

Thank you for being here with me.

Thank you for sitting by me, holding my hand, and making sure I never felt alone. Thank you for your never-ending optimism, for not giving up hope, even when I felt I had. Thank you for always being there when I need you, and for bringing joy into my life when I need it most.

Thank you for being my friend, above all else. Thank you for not running at the first sign that things weren’t perfect, and instead assuring me that nothing in life is perfect, and this is small in comparison to what else I have to offer.

I want to thank you for each and every little thing that you’ve ever done for me, but writing the list would require a lifetime of typing.

There’s not a day that goes by where I wish I would wake up to a miraculous cure, where I wish that the pain would cease and my body would function perfectly, but that’s not just for myself. I wish I could take the hurt away from you, I wish I could lift the weight of my illness from your loaded shoulders.

I am adamant that loneliness is a far greater pain than any symptom my bowel could produce. The fact that I am no longer lonely is the thing I am most thankful to you for.

Sometimes people run, for the idea of befriending a chronically ill human seems daunting or hard. At many times in my life, this left me feeling unlovable and worthless.

Your friendship has helped show me that I am a person with value, that my illness means nothing in comparison to all the other parts of me, and your support has helped me grow and blossom into the woman I was born to become.

I used to identify myself as a sick girl before anything else. Thanks to you, I now know with that I am so much more than that.

You’ve helped give me courage to take on things I never thought I could do.

I am a journalist, a high-achieving university student, a musician, and according to you, I could be a part-time model (though I’d probably have to keep my normal job). The fact I have a chronic illness may be a part of me, but it by no means defines me.

Most importantly, though, I am your friend too, and I will always be there to support you in return when you need me. It is my honour to return the favour for as long as I am on this planet, or even on a spaceship, or mars, if I’m unable to avoid the inevitability of space conscription.

I don’t think you realise how wonderful you are, and how much I admire, appreciate, and love you.

I have to stress that: you are incredible, and not a day goes by where I am not thankful for your presence in my life.

Things can be really hard sometimes, but without doubt, the pain I’ve endured in my 22 years pales in comparison to the happiness I’ve found with you.

Love and thanks, always,

Claire.

This may be a personal account, but according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, chronic illness affects about half of the Australian population. 

Please be aware that chronic illness exists in many shapes and forms, and is often invisible.

I hope this personal thank you can show just how much a simple friendship can mean to a person who may be suffering more than you realise. 

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