By: Ariel Fixler
As I got sicker, I started to make sure my friend group was smaller and more intimate. I became less inhibited. I wasn’t driven by what I thought was polite to say and was just honest to a fault. I stood by my social circle and familial eliminations as I closed the friend gap to suit my emotional and physical needs. I started to really see who was there for themselves and who was there for me.
I was always so obsessed with being well liked, received and doing everything I could to better people’s lives (as stated in a previous essay of mine). I wished everyone well on every occasion, always sent gifts and always just wanted people to know I still cared for them even if I couldn’t be physically present for their celebration. I wanted to do what I can to bring people together and bring enrichment. I was also grateful for my everlasting support.
HOWEVER, I also put up with a lot of BULLSHIT. Too much for someone who is healthy let alone sick. I saw people use my illness as an opportunity for themselves. Whether it be the girl who originally planned my fundraiser then had to be rescued in the planning efforts (when it fell to disorganized chaos). This was also this girl’s career choice (charity party planning). The same girl also famously told me not to attend my own fundraiser because if I did not attend they would raise more money. I asked her if she wanted to cane me before the event as well. She did not get the joke. She also told everyone she didn’t read my blogs, she skimmed them at the fundraiser and afterwards to prep for the event. She said they were too long for her. I tried to give the girl some slack, but she constantly took the rope and hung herself. When she ran into my mom and my mother told her how I was doing, she didn’t reach out. However when her friends started visiting that is when she took the time to “reach out”, pretending she forgot about what my mom had told her and just heard I was home. Pretty hard to forget about. I write about this here so openly and without guise because this person has told me and others multiple times she has never read my blogs fully. She skims because they are too heavy and long. But she gets the “gist”. Did I mention her father had cancer?
One of the worst times was when I was going through radiation she left me at a party where I knew no one. She did this in order to meet a late night “date” at midnight. Thank god that was the night I met my friend Valerie and the rest is sisterhood history. I felt so alone and awful that she left me there and Valerie saw it go down. This girl hesitated when she left but still left saying this was the only time this guy could meet her and he could be the one. Oh he was not the one, but you all figured that cattle call/booty call out before I said it. I still thank god people saw I was in distress and took care of me at the bar and got me home because I was overwhelmed from the crowd and heat and fell over dizzy and frazzled.
I used also used her as an example to my friends how not to mourn me after I pass and they totally got it without me explaining. People don’t post or tag the hell out of deceased person. Not every shot, every outing, every recreational activity needs to be a tribute to them and placed on their wall. If you want to memorialize them do it for yourself and for your own grieving process. Don’t do it to socially prove something to other people. Show people you two were close. No one wants that, we want you to live their lives without carrying our tribute torch. It hits a point where you need to take those memories “offline” out of respect. Not everyone has to know and it becomes “social mourning” which is attention grabbing, chilling and eerie.
Another friend told me they didn’t attend and messed up their audition because they thought I was going to pass. It was as if they were disgruntled I didn’t pass in order to help validate their acting hall pass and excuse. When I was explaining how bad I was feeling they made it about them and how my pain, my disease, my hurt, my decline caused them to miss an acting opportunity.
Towards the end of my illness I just didn’t care anymore. The people who loved me and listened to me did just that and effortlessly and without prompting. The others who could not easily do this I distanced myself from. The people who still wanted and needed favors from me but tried to be subtle in their outreach. In the same swift sentence wished me well (but also asked for info and pumped me for favors). Whether it be asking me for a favor and not understanding I needed real support. It was actually a liberating process. I spent my whole life playing the exhaustive game of wanting to be liked by all instead of loved by a few. My boyfriends used to tease me they were exhausted with all social commitments and that it wasn’t normal to have that many real life friends. It was too much. I knew they were teasing me (but what they had said made so much sense later in life).
As my illness progressed, I loved knowing whom I could really count on and who were one-off favor friends. It’s something I wish I would have discovered in the beginning of my illness. When I asked people for favors it was met with such a defense and it was like I was asking them for a kidney. One friend even went as far to say “I am sorry you have such high expectations for me, you know I am a flake”. This is someone who was a big sister to me and it was a total WTF moment for me to step away FOR GOOD when I got sick.
Or when every year I got raffles and helped out with a charity that was close to my heart. Yet, I was always left off of the list of raffle donors, ticket purchasers and there was no attribution of my aid (or even a confirmation of my raffle being received). Or that I wanted to give away my purchased admission tickets and raffle tickets. Though the raffles were always at the event. It made me so sad to be left off of tags and attribution. It seemed so purposeful and I wasn’t sure why go through all of the effort to do that. What’s the point? It’s a charity event not a competition for who was the best committee member. You would be on a shame game list where this person would deride the whole committee for their efforts, admonish and call out those who were not pulling their weight. It was a like the Amazing Race or Survivor non profit edition. It was a volunteer committee deriding people doesn’t motivate them. Then there were people like me who went overlooked and ignored. There were never any photos of me on the event page. Only photos of this persons friends and women he found attractive and flirted with. It was like I didn’t exist the past 6 years at this event. I knew I existed because I had Facebook/Iphoto albums full of photos from the event every single year. I knew the person who took over the event (and who was now was in charge of it and all the social pages) and I can tell you it never seemed accidental to leave me out. So I took a step back. I didn’t want to play the disillusioned game. I left knowing I once had an impact with this event, but this was no longer an event that needed me or wanted me.
So those who are being newly diagnosed or who are finding their footing through their own illness and rifling through their true support system, be more conscious and aware. A lot people’s offers to “help” I found to be half-assed. They did offer to help (but they prayed you never actually take them up on it).
Just do you and everything else and everyone will fall into place. You can’t force someone to be the support you need. Just like you can’t peer pressure someone into being your friend on or “offline”. You will be left disgruntled and left with so much simmering anger. See who makes you feel like your best you. Someone who can really talk to you and see the real you behind your illness and your despair. Someone who can talk about his or her lives, but more importantly help you with your life in the process. You aren’t looking for a dog and pony show, a sideshow or a real Bravo show reenactment. You need someone who can put down all his or her devices and pull in and focus on only you. They can disconnect with their obsessions or digital world for an hour and connect with you.
So be selective, see who you can rely on and when they say if you need anything call on me, do they mean it? Or is it something they say in passing or to be polite? I had a lot of those people who made the grand gesture but never made the grand execution. It was as if they assumed they could offer because I would never ask them. WRONG.
I had a friend who emailed me the other day, who literally said “Thanks so much for the sweet words on my birthday, if you ever need anything I will at least try my best or see what I can do or if I can do it”. Yes that’s a half ass attempt and this person is the pinnacle of social awkwardness. It places a weird suffix and spin on any outreach. But hey she was honest and I knew what to expect, or should I say what not to expect. She was basically saying (but not overtly stating) here is my gesture; I know I haven’t been the best and probably can’t do much. So don’t call on me, please don’t call on me, I made myself clear right don’t ask me? But in making the gesture, if I didn’t know beforehand I knew instantly it was an empty gesture.
Here are some ways to be mindful of your support and your needs:
1. Go with your gut.
2. Don’t force anything.
3. Have some solo time carved out for YOU.
4. Find an escape (reading, film, books, podcasts, art etc.)
5. Spend more time doing things for yourself rather than for others.
6. Keep a close watch on your time especially during visits. Time is precious.
7. Don’t feel pressure to respond.
8. Don’t be bated by BS and multiple forms of outreach to validate others insecurities about your current friendship or relationship.
9. Allow your self to cry with someone or cry on your own.
10. Laugh even when you can’t find humor in anything.
11. Take time to ask questions even if you think you know it all.