It’s like having a chronic illness isn’t hard enough to cope with – right? But when it starts affecting your relationships and leaves you feeling abandoned – it adds a whole new level to the meaning of chronic loss.
An illness affects every aspect of your life and your social networks are no exception. One of the biggest scars it can leave you with is the fear of being alone… and I know this because it happened to me.
It’s not that I was afraid to spend time alone. And it’s not like people in my life actively cut me out. It was more about the fact that no matter how much I made an effort – I didn’t feel heard. Sometimes I even felt ignored.
It was like I was screaming for help in a soundproof box. And people could see me, but they couldn’t understand me… so they just kept walking.
Does this sound familiar at all?
It’s one of the most gut-wrenching feelings and it leaves you so confused.
But I want you to know that the feeling of abandonment doesn’t last forever. And I’m going to show you how to process and overcome it in a healthy way.
Before I get into it, it's worth knowing that having difficulty with re-establishing friendships is a given when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness. And if you find yourself here, I suggest taking a look at this article first:
Abandonment is a Serious Issue
Abandonment issues arise when you feel like your trust was misplaced. And you could not rely on someone you loved to help you when you needed it the most.
You can consider the fear of abandonment as a subform of anxiety. In essence, it’s the fear of loss. (Which is already a big feature in your life if you’ve got a chronic illness.)
And one of the biggest risks associated with unresolved abandonment issues is that, without any help, they can really prevent you from forming healthy bonds going forward.
More than being upset about the people who let you down, you need to focus on bringing yourself up and surrounding yourself with those who will do the same.
Feelings of abandonment run deep and working on them means you acknowledge that they’re serious. You’re not silly or weak for being hurt by this loss. You’re stronger for wanting to face it.
Actually – it shows you’re not ready to abandon yourself.
Why People Abandon a Sick Friend or Family Member
Are all relationships meant to last forever?
Or are some only meant to last a specific amount of time?
Do you not gain from present relationships and learn from those you’ve lost?
Maybe your illness has fast-tracked the process of finding out who your real friends are?
Maybe a relationship has ended abruptly or maybe you expected more from someone you deem to be a real friend. I get that.
But every story has two sides to it and if someone has left you stranded, it’s unlikely to be because they’re just selfish and careless.
Often, when someone we love abandons us it’s because:
They’re scared for us
Not everyone is cut out to watch the people they care for face something so difficult. Sometimes it scares them so much that they can’t stick around to watch it roll out.
I remember having a friend who saw me twice after my diagnosis. Both times she burst into tears and left.
Initially, it made me so angry. After all, I was the one who was in the wheelchair – not her. But who was I to judge? I can’t watch a movie where the dog dies; it breaks me for weeks! We’re all different.
That’s not their fault. It’s their journey to self-discovery and you need to respect that. If anyone should know about that, it’s you!
It makes them think about death
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true! Most people, especially in their youth, think they’re invincible. Bad stuff happens – but that’s nothing that they have to worry about.
But if you can get sick – it may give them the shocking reminder that nobody’s life is guaranteed to belong or healthy.
At some point, they will learn how to process these facts of life but it’s not your job to do anything if they’re not ready to hear it.
They’ve never dealt with anything like this before
These are the friends that haven’t come across chronic illnesses before and as a result – don’t have much experience in the matter.
I’m talking about the friends who say things like: “You’re so lucky that you get to stay home and don’t have to come to work.” or
“But you don’t look like you’re sick? Comes let’s go do something!”
Just try to remember it’s not their fault they haven’t dealt with a chronic illness before. And if it means your journey parts ways here then it’s not just better for them, it benefits you too – trust me.
They weren’t real friends
Not every friend we have will care as much for us as we care about them. Sometimes your feelings will be more genuine than theirs – and that’s okay.
It may seem counterintuitive to be at peace with saying goodbye to these friends, but it’s worth reminding yourself two things:
It’s given you the chance to find out which friends do care about you.
You’ve made a big step towards cutting unhealthy relationships out of your life.
The relationship is subconsciously pushed aside
This is one of the most common reasons for a friend to “abandon” you in your time of need. Especially in your youth.
Shared interests, issues and lifestyles all help determine how much time we spend with someone else. And when something changes your life so drastically, it can create a divide between you and your friends.
I remember being sick in bed while my friends chatted about boys and exams – their issues seemed so simple when I compared them to mine. I felt like I had almost nothing in common with them anymore.
It wasn’t malicious or intentional when those friendships ended. It just happened because our priorities in life were no longer the same.
And that’s life. We naturally connect with people who are walking similar paths to us.
It’s not to say that those friendships won’t be rekindled – you never know what the future may bring.
But for now, you need to focus on the friends who are on the same wavelength as you.
How You May Subconsciously Encourage Social Isolation
I know it can get confusing when you have to consider the role that your chronic illness plays in all of this. The new restrictions your health have over you can force you into isolation whether you like it or not.
Certain ways your illness can socially isolate you, include:
Your pain and fatigue increase your physical limitations and you can’t do as many things during your day.
Your symptoms are unpredictable and, therefore, so is your schedule.
Things like social gatherings, loud noises or small spaces can trigger you.
But just remember none of these aspects means that you are lonely.
Isolation simply means you either don’t have the opportunity or will to interact with others. Loneliness means you’re upset about the fact that you don’t have enough valuable interactions with people.
It can become easy to socially isolate yourself when you feel abandoned and your faith in others is shaken.
It could be because you’re trying to heal from the hurt it caused. Or it could also be because you haven’t worked through that fear of loss.
Either way, when you find more comfort and trust in your own company with increasingly fewer loved ones around you – it’s a sign that you could be subconsciously encouraging self-isolation more than you otherwise would.
10 Ways You Can Cope with Abandonment
I’ve brought up some pretty heavy conversation in this post – but it’s not without a purpose. I promise.
When the time is right, and you’re ready for it, there are ways to work through any feelings of abandonment that your chronic illness has triggered.
Talk to a counsellor
What you’re going through is not easy and it deserves validation. One of the reasons I recommend it so highly is that it helps you process your thoughts around chronic illness and relationships in a healthy way.
There’s nothing wrong with needing time to yourself. But there’s a difference between training yourself to think things through constructively and allowing all your negative thoughts to take over your mind.
Be truthful about your feelings
I know it hurts to speak about what your mind and body are going through with your chronic illness. And more than that, I know you don’t want to burden those around you with the daily challenges you face.
But remember that the people who love you often don’t know how to help you. And even if YOU don’t have the answer, sharing your thoughts helps them feel involved in your life and it helps you feel supported.
Best of all – opening up about your experiences with the few people that you’ve learnt to trust is liberating. What you’re going through is too much for one person to carry inside of them. You need to let it out sometimes.
Here's a great article that you can share with any of your loved ones to give them an idea of what you go through: 30 Things Chronic Pain Sufferers Want You to Know
Prioritise your needs
The expression “you can’t pour from an empty cup” fits perfectly here. When your health obstacles deplete you and it definitely requires your full attention.
Basically, if you can’t look after yourself physically and emotionally first – then you won’t have the means to look after anyone else either.
Take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What do I need right now to be mentally and emotionally ‘full’?”
Yes, this takes a little objectivity and a lot of honesty – say what you need to hear and not what you want to hear – but it’s a necessary skill to have if you want to strengthen yourself and your relationships.
The top 5 questions you should ask yourself, are:
- Am I giving myself enough attention?
- Do I feel my emotional and physical boundaries are being met?
- Do I have some sense of autonomy in daily living? (even if it’s just being able to put on my socks without help)
- Have I set a goal for myself recently that gives me a sense of worth?
- Am I helping a cause greater than myself?
Be open to possibilities
It’s hard to learn to trust people and build relationships again. And although you may have your defences up for good reason. There comes a time when you need to let them down again.
Next time one of your friends asks if you want to walk the dogs at the park (and you’re feeling physically okay) take a chance and go. You may find that you love it and make it a weekly thing.
And if you didn’t enjoy it and you don’t feel great afterwards – at least you can say you tried and there should be no regret in that.
I would highly recommend trying yoga, doing an art class, joining a book club or even getting into indoor gardening.
There are many low-energy and high-reward activities that you can do with a friend that can help you build your relationship and push you back into the world when you’re ready for it.
Try and set goals for yourself
One of the hardest things about feeling abandoned when you have a chronic illness is that it sometimes leaves you with the awful (and untrue) feeling that you are not worthy of being cared for.
This isn’t a feeling someone else can fix for you. Your relationships are not emotional crutches. This is something you need to fulfil within yourself.
One of the best ways to do that is by gradually building yourself up with incremental goals. Don’t overdo it and please don’t compare your progress to anyone else but you!
Keep things simple and remember to document everything down. I promise you that you will see yourself grow. If this is something you're struggling with, I have some interesting suggestions in this article that you can look into: Overcoming Guilt and Chronic Illness
Join a support group
When you’re feeling particularly alone, it may be worth your while to join a support group in your neighbourhood.
There’s nothing like having some listen to you, validate you and honestly tell you that they understand how you feel.
This is a great space for you to unleash all the feelings you may have bottled up and confide in people who can relate to you personally.
Embrace the online community
This is another great place to rebuild your trust and faith in relationships at a chronic illness warrior.
The online communities, especially through Facebook groups and Instagram, are very vocal and become virtual cheerleaders and supporters as you get through your battles.
Sometimes the people around you just can’t give you the sympathetic support that you need (which is understandable) and that’s where other chronic illness warriors play a vital role.
Find console in a pet
There’s nothing like having the company of an ever-faithful companion that gives unconditional love, attention and solace when you need it the most.
Pets for chronic illness are really remarkable supporters and there’s a whole lot of science to back it up too.
If you don’t have a pet and are thinking of getting one to help you out, this read will give you an idea of whether it’s the right time or not.
Get personal: write a letter
This is not a letter that you send. This is just a letter that you write out. I need to make this very clear from the beginning.
There might be some unresolved thoughts, feelings, frustrations that you have towards anyone who’s left you feeling abandoned during this time.
So if you feel like getting some closure, then take a minute to write down all the things you’d like to say to that person.
Don’t leave any open questions, like “Why did you leave?” Instead, write about why you appreciated your time together.
Use what I’ve shared in this article to explain how your life moved forward since you last spoke and how much you have grown. Consider this pen and paper a literary punching bag, if you will. But you win by showing strength in character and action.
Remember that your stories make up who you are
I know there may be times when you want to forget everything you have been through with your health and try and fit back into the life you once had.
But your health obstacles are part of your story now. They take up a chunk of your life and feature in many of the decisions you have to make all the time.
Your trials have made you a warrior. They’ve made you more patient, resilient, understanding and fierce.
So when you get out there, in the open world, and you speak about who you are and what you’ve gone through with pride – not everyone will respond, I can guarantee you that.
But those who do respond, are the people you will make a genuine connection with. These are the people who help you find the courage to celebrate exactly who you are. These are the truest friends you’ll find.
What to Take Away From This Approach to Coping with Abandonment
- There’s always a reason behind a friend leaving.
It’s highly unlikely to be because they don’t care anymore.
- Each relationship you have is there to serve a purpose.
Sometimes they aren’t meant to last forever – that’s okay. It means that your heart is open to inviting new friends that are on a similar path to you right now.
- Feeling abandoned is one of the sh*ttiest feelings in the world.
It’s okay to write down all the things you wish you could have said to the person who betrayed your trust. What’s not okay is to let yourself be defeated by it.
- Being open with the people who you do love and trust is important.
It will help you work on that fear of loss and tell the people around you what kind of help you need right now.
- Finally, your focus will shift to the friends who add value in your life and vice versa when you’re ready for it.
The hurt you once felt will be covered by an abundance of goodness that you let yourself feel now. You are worthy of love and happiness – and the right people will remind you of that.