Interventional Treatment for My Social Sickness

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by Brad Dell |

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life, clinical trials, love, romance, exclusion, covid-19, family, fiction, hope, funeral, social, ableism, funeral

Life is hard, ain’t it? Sometimes all you need is a long cry session over hibachi in Toronto.

And so that’s exactly what I had with fellow Cystic Fibrosis News Today columnist Lara Govendo. She has a mental health counseling degree, so she carries those good life-altering words. Over teriyaki chicken with a side of affirmations, she challenged me to stop being a doormat, to stop people-pleasing, to stop living as though I’m indebted to anyone who so much as smiles in my direction.

Those are challenges I could accept only from someone who knows exactly what it feels like to be a burden, someone with CF and a lung transplant, someone who wants to be defined by love. And when she said these things, yeah, I cried.

Before then, I hadn’t realized I’d been shouldering the weight of a hundred relationships that lacked healthy boundaries. Usually, that was my bad — I’d let jokes go too far, answer texts so quickly I’d set unrealistic expectations, insist I didn’t need help from others, and tell everyone in the CF community I’d always be available to listen. Although I’d made those mistakes myself, I didn’t need to continue reaping their consequences.

Besides Toronto, Lara and Brad have met up in Boston, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. There was reason for tears at each meet-up. (Courtesy of Brad Dell)

To patch those self-harming behaviors, I needed to identify motivators. After a year of reflection, I realized my desire to be the most valuable, positive, and available friend is because I fear I’ll be abandoned if I’m not those things.

A guilty conscience also plagues me. I’m not a good enough friend, I’ve burdened people, I’ve neglected people who are really hurting, I got donor lungs instead of someone else on the waiting list so I must push myself harder, etc. Also, like many others who have suffered greatly, I want to alleviate the suffering of others.

To realize these things, I interrogated loved ones, reviewed past conversations, and analyzed the masks I employ to manipulate others into thinking I was A-OK, 24/7. I also cried in four different pastors’ offices upon realizing how twisted my views of love were. One who specializes in emotional healing called me the “altar boy,” saying he sees me signing up for every possible ministry but rarely letting others minister to me.

Maybe you see much of yourself in my descriptions. Maybe your disease has caused you to feel unworthy or indebted. Oh, what a burden it is to carry a disease on your shoulders. You don’t need to add unnecessarily to that burden. You deserve healthy relationships. Have you considered you might need to prioritize that even more than people without a disease?

Your disease doesn’t obligate you to be the village sage, the unpaid therapist, the source of inspiration porn. Please don’t let people cross boundaries out of fear they’ll leave you the next time you’re hospitalized. If they leave, it wasn’t a relationship worthy of investment.

I know it’s hard to see it now, but if you leave that friendship, you’ll look back in hindsight months later and realize that weight on your shoulders feels much, much lighter.

In the past two years, I’ve taken steps back in many friendships, including with really lovely people. We’re still friends, but our relationships are less involved. I just didn’t have enough emotional bandwidth. I was running myself ragged with many shallow friendships rather than cultivating deep relationships. I explained to some that it was for the good of both of us. For others, I simply let myself fade into the background of their life and realized I’d exaggerated my importance to them in my head, which was more relieving than saddening.

Then I built boundaries. For example, I made a Facebook profile without connections to the CF community other than individuals I’d chosen to invest in. It was hard to see so much suffering on my feed and receive more messages than I could answer. (Eventually, I customized my social media feeds to show only soul-nourishing content.)

Also, I bit the bullet and told friends I can’t message as often as before, and that I’m prioritizing in-person friendships because too much screen time is never good.

Today, I feel light. No one bit my head off, I’m digging deep relational roots with fresh boundaries, I don’t spend eight hours a day answering calls and text messages, and I have more time for my self-care rituals.

I’m not saying it’s easy to establish boundaries and let relationships fade, but I encourage you to rip off the Band-Aid and protect your emotional health — your burden is so heavy. One day, you’ll get coffee with those old friends to catch up. You’ll realize their life moved on without you, and yours without them, yet you still love each other.


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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