A few weeks ago, I ran across a quote that says “Never prioritize people who only view you as an option”. This struck me to the core because this is a problem I seem to have run into frequently this year. I also think it’s a problem that most people dealing with a chronic illness will face at some point or another, because eventually you realize that some of the friends or family members you are prioritizing are not supportive of, or helpful in, your journey to health.
I love writing about Lyme because in so many ways, the problems it brings parallel normal life problems that everyone deals with, magnified in the face of a chronic illness. Ironically, I find myself relearning lessons that I dealt with when I was very sick, except that now they center around circumstances that aren’t related to my health.
When I saw this quote, it was about two weeks after a break up. I realized that I had put more energy into and placed a higher priority on the relationship, and that wasn’t fair. While I was sick, I learned how to invest my energy carefully, into those who I wanted to spend time with, and who were equally active in our friendship. But somehow, I failed to take that lesson with me into real life.
The people I love and am closest to are the most important people in my life. I place a higher priority on these people than on anyone else, and I never say things that I don’t mean. Meaning, if I say “I’ll be there” or “I love you” or “There’s nothing you can do that will ever make me leave” then I mean those. Yet, there are people in my life, who have been there for years, who are not there for me as irrevocably as I am for them, and these relationships drain energy. This doesn’t mean they have to end, but it does mean that they should no longer be prioritized.
This is difficult. I’ve always believed that if you fight hard enough at anything, you can win. That mentality got me healthy. It’s also allowed me to do a lot of other things. But one thing you can’t always win, no matter how hard you try, is other people. You can prioritize someone, but if they refuse to do the work back, well, actions speak louder than words.
When you’re sick, it’s easy to prioritize. You only have so many spoons each day. It may not be easy to cut people out of your life if you realize their presence is harming you more than it’s helping you, but it is easier. I intentionally ended some friendships when I was very sick because those people made me stressed, unhappy, and were not supportive of me, while I was expected to be supportive of them. This is harder to remember when you’re healthy and have more energy to invest in people-whether you should or not.
In some ways, being chronically ill makes some things easier. It offers a sense of perspective that, speaking from personal experience, can be easy to lose sight of once you’re healthy. With Lyme, you never know what tomorrow, or even today, will bring. In such a state of uncertainty, your limitations become glaringly obvious, and it becomes much easier to really notice which things or people in your life are helpful and which are harmful. You have to take advantage of the times that you feel somewhat normal and spend that time with the people who really matter. It’s easy to realize which relationships in your life are not healthy when your life is all about being as healthy as possible.
This is a perspective that people may never have. Without some kind of cataclysmic push, like an illness, it seems like people are more likely to avoid purging their lives of toxic people. They’ll keep around that friend just because they’ve known them forever, even if that relationship is unhealthy. Often, there’s the fear about what will happen if you let a person go from your life. If you’ve been friends forever, even if it’s not an equal friendship, it’s still scary to imagine not having that person around anymore. Often an illness, while unpleasant, is helpful in providing a perspective change, and the push needed to make one’s life healthier overall.
Obviously, having a chronic illness is not any fun, but I continue to find ways that the lessons I learned from being sick still apply to my life. This lesson about prioritizing is especially powerful. I wrote a post awhile back about the reasons I am thankful I got Lyme and the lessons it taught me. Being sick is no walk in the park, but the lessons it brings are gifts (or at least that’s how I prefer to view them). And thankfully, if you don’t learn them the first time around, there will always be more chances to.