Monday, August 29, 2011

Finding Myself; Finding My Best Friends

The Beatles once told us that "love is all you need", and I tend to agree. That's why I choose to write about living and loving with chronic illness. Whether you're chronically ill or perfectly healthy, it's vital to nurture love in all its forms: love within our families, love between friends, romantic love, and love for the world around us. In my eyes, it's everything.

Of course it's all about balance, and for most of my life I didn't have it. I was the definition of a "bleeding heart", reaching out to anyone and everyone who sought my advice. I was deeply impacted by their struggles, but truthfully it also made me feel needed.  At the same time, I clammed up about anything "negative" in my own life. I suppose it just felt easier to focus on my friends' "normal" problems (stuff like bad grades and boy trouble) than my rare health condition. After all, my problems weren't going anywhere, and who could relate to them anyway? This was also a reflection of my self worth (or lack there of). Since I couldn't do many things like the typical college student, I already felt like I had several "strikes" against me. At the very least, then, I could be the "listener." Meanwhile, I wanted nothing more than unconditional love in my own life, but I had no idea where and how to find it.

It took getting sick to realize that I simply couldn't sustain these relationships, especially without getting much in return. The majority of my energy (or whatever was left of it) needed to go toward fighting my disease. I gave myself permission to stop hiding my reality, and those "friendships" that felt so one-sided? It turns out that they were. When I wasn't able to be the upbeat Maya they had always known, they faded away. During a time when I needed friends more than ever, they were nowhere to be found.
After college, I vowed only to invest in a special few; people who deserved my love and would offer it in return. Thanks to therapy and lots of soul searching, I realized I needed to let go of my fear - fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of someone saying something dumb about my health. Only then could I be ready to pursue the "right" relationships. As always, my family gave me tremendous strength during this time, reminding me that I deserved only the best. 

As I made this transition, I focused on the most important relationship of all: the one I had with myself. I learned to cherish my own company, and even took myself on several "dates." (Before you laugh, go ahead and try it! For starters, you'll never fight over which movie to go see). As my self-esteem grew, I believe it helped attract the right people into my life. Finally I knew what I deserved and I began asking for it.

It wasn't long before I started cultivating new friendships. Although I still secretly feared overwhelming them with my problems, I was honest from the start. This time around, I knew myself and believed I had much more to offer than constant optimism. To my surprise, they truly wanted to listen... so I kept talking. As I maneuvered through my worst flare yet and struggled with even the most basic tasks, our bond only grew stronger. Through sickness and through health, they loved me for me. When I finally dared to be myself, these are the friendships that rose to the top; people who wanted to celebrate my successes and catch my falls. As sick as I was, I had never felt safer or more content in my personal life.
If I've learned anything from these experiences, it's that love shouldn't be given away freely. Okay - if we're talking in a biblical sense (as in "love thy neighbor"), we should all offer our help and compassion whenever possible. However, when it comes to our personal and enduring relationships, we have the right to be picky. Love - in its truest form - is special and asks something of us. Investing in any successful relationship takes time and energy...two things that are limited when you're living with chronic illness. If we learn to view our energy as a precious commodity (essential to loving, caring for our health, and everything else in our lives), then we'll be more mindful of how we spend it. Ultimately, it all goes back to the "golden rule." If we give a piece of ourselves to the people in our lives, it's critical that they know how to replenish our energy when the time is right. In love, as in life, balance is everything.


  1. Maya,

    Thank you for sharing these precious truths about the impact -- either positive or negative -- relationships have on our health and life in general. Chronic illness has a way of getting right to the point of our essential needs of well-being; true friendships are one of those needs. Wasting time with "fair weather" friends, or one-sided relationships is counterproductive to the person who wants to maximize wellness. I think your ability to cultivate new and sustaining friendships while living with chronic illness says a lot about you as a person, as well as the people you are surrounding yourself with. One of my favorite sayings is by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The only way to have a friend is to be one." You must be a great friend, since you have so many. :)

  2. lovely post, miss maya. you are so young, yet so wise. i can't wait to see where your life's journey takes you! love you!

  3. Such good insights, Maya! I'm on this journey myself; I could really relate to every word you wrote. xo ~ Janine

  4. I really needed this post right now Maya. As I have been feeling better, I find I want to use my energy for things that nourish me and unfortunately many of my "friends" are not doing that. In fact, they are depleting me. It is time to move on.

    Thanks so much for your cyber friendship. I can't tell you how many times you have nourished me. When my dad passed away and you asked me to share him with you, it was the greatest gift anyone gave me. Thanks so much for that.

  5. Thrive With RA: Thank you for your wise comment. I loved what you said here: "Wasting time with "fair weather" friends, or one-sided relationships is counterproductive to the person who wants to maximize wellness." So succinct, but yet perfect. I do try to be the best friend possible, and realized that in order to do this, it's definitely about give and take. It's better to have a few quality friends in your life than a whole bunch of fair weather ones.

    Betsy: You're the best! Thank you so much for your constant support and true blue friendship. You remind me why I do what I do xoxox

    Janine: I'm so glad to hear you could relate...I'm not surprised. From our first e-mail correspondence, I knew that you valued people and relationships the way I do. You're an incredibly special person who deserves incredibly special things.

    Cathy: Your comment made me tear don't know what it means to hear that, in some small way, I've helped. Believe me you do the same for me. It seems that your posts line up remarkably well with what's going on in my life, and so many times you've written just what I needed to hear. I wish we lived close enough to get together in person because I've always felt such a connection to you.

  6. What a wonderful post. You show the full circle of friendship with chronic illness and it is wonderful that you have found true friendship. It is funny how when we are well we accept lopsided friendship and accept them as normal. I suppose because we have more energy we don't notice how draining they truly are...until we have little or no energy left to give and we realize that our emotional bank account has been depleted completely. It is wonderful to hear that you have true friendship now. I personally believe that until we can become friends with our new self we will have a hard time finding true nourishing friendships. If we can't like and love ourselves the right way we will tend to attract people that also don't love and like us. You are an inspiration. Thank you for blogging.