For the first few days after my cardiac arrest I felt like my life was tilted upside down and shaken like an Etch A Sketch. The picture of my life that had been drawn through the years was suddenly scattered and gone. Would the new image yet to be created be anything like the old one? Would I still be able to manipulate those white knobs to control the direction of the new picture? As I lay in that hospital bed dumbfounded by the sudden and dramatic changes in my life, I knew that I would never be the same physically or emotionally. What I didn’t foresee was the shifts that would occur in my friendships.
Did you ever see the Seinfeld episode where George’s worlds collided? (The video embedding was disabled so it’s linked to the video on YouTube’s site. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.)
I know not everyone appreciated Seinfeld, but I thought it was hilarious. It was so easy to identify with the ordinary situations and the little details of the everyday life that were magnified on that show, and the cynical sarcastic side of me appreciated the rough around the edges humor.
Those first few days in the hospital, Carol was inundated and scrambling to return calls and update people about my condition. Phone trees were set up and as people from all walks of my life came to visit, all my worlds collided. KABOOM… to the nth degree. Now unlike George, I didn’t necessarily think this was entirely a bad thing, but it was definitely the beginning of a lot of changes to come.
I’ve always liked the saying that friends are family that you’ve chosen. I left home for college when I was 17 and lived pretty independently until I got sick. Because, for the most part, my immediate family was 400 miles away and my closes relatives were 3,000 miles away, my friends were essentially my family for a large part of my adult life.
In the give and take of a friendship, the circumstances in which I can ‘give’ dramatically changed after I became ill. Friendships grow closer over time and shared experiences, but I no longer have the same day to day interactions with people. I’m no longer able to participate in life the way I used to.
It feels like my friendships that have sustained through all this have survived because the other person has willingly absorbed most of the responsibilities of the upkeep – consciously or not. If I want to spend time with a friend, 95% of the time that person has to come visit me. I went from being more of a natural part of someone’s life, like most friends, to someone who needs to be consciously included. I am no longer someone you would think of calling when you want to do something fun on a Saturday, or go to a movie or out to eat. I don’t take this personally because I know this is just another change I need to cope with.
It feels like my social structure has crumbled. Let’s say you (as my friend) have a handful of friends. If one of your friends (me) can no longer participate in your life in the same way, there is a sense of loss but for the most part your other friends fill in that gap. Essentially your social structure doesn’t really change whereas I feel more alone that I have in my life. This can not be helped. I’m still mourning the loss, but I have accepted this as my new norm. I deal and make the most of what I can. If not for instant messaging and Facebook I think I would quietly go insane. As an inherently introverted person with just a handful of people I consider to be good friends, I didn’t think I’d feel the loss of social interactions so profoundly. I guess in the end humans are naturally social creatures.
It’s interesting to me that since all of this has happened I have grown closer to some of my friends while others have dropped out completely. To be honest, I’m surprised I’m not more upset about certain people who have chosen not to be involved in my life. What’s even more surprising was my decision to not continue specific friendships. Not that we had a falling out, but I just stopped making the effort. It’s times like these when you remember why you became friends with someone in the first place.
One thing my family has always said to me throughout all this is that I have such great friends. My reply has always been the same. If they weren’t good people, they wouldn’t be my friend in the first place. However, the reality is no matter how good someone is, it’s not enough to sustain a friendship I wish life was as simple as the innocent mentality of children. You’re nice and I like playing with you. You are my friend. Unfortunately as adults we have added on layers of filters, requirements and barriers as we’ve grown up.
Yes people, mock me all you want. I am going to be THAT person who quotes Oprah. “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” A big shout out to all my friends who have made the effort to sustain our friendship and have gone above and beyond to include me in your life. Thank you for riding the bus with me… and often times providing the fare.