Recently, I have had conversations with my friends(both online and offline friends so you, reading this online, feel free to say hi!) regarding their health. I have never portrayed myself as a very caring person, a warm sunshine or a carebear. Therefore, it came to me as a surprise to have friends confiding in me of the fears they had surrounding their health and importantly, sharing their medical diagnosis. We frame diagnosis/prescription/positive lab tests as evidence that something is wrong with you. We frame it as disease, as something that is wrong and needs to be cured and so, our abnormalities are to be hidden. Sharing one’s physical and mental health is akin to being naked, showing your flaws and what has been stamped as abnormal. I too am coping with an abnormality in my health which can be noticed if you are a keen observer but I haven’t told anyone about it. Therefore, to have others share with me their medical journey feels unreal, surreal and bewilders me because I don’t have the courage to share this with others.
I knew my friends weren’t here for a diagnosis because I am unqualified to make one and they’ve already visited their doctor. So, I wondered what was my role in this. What do I say? Remember, your girl is no carebear no matter how much she loves you. So, I went back to the basics of asking open-ended questions such as how are you feeling now, is anything bothering you, do you have any worries, are you feeling angry, how are you coping. I let my friends tell me what they are comfortable with sharing. I tried hard not to probe but let them tell me. This was ok.
The hard part was responding to their answers. Am I supposed to tell them they would be ok, that they’ll emerge stronger from this? who cares about emerging stronger, no one wanted this to happen in the first place. The only message I kept replying was repeatedly assuring them that I will be there for them and that they can always text me for meet-ups, to accompany them places or just hear them rant. I am trying my best to walk the talk.
Finally, I assured them of confidentiality. My friends had approached me because as a medical student I might view their medical condition without prejudice and importantly, will not see them differently now that their diagnosis was out. I had to be non-judgemental. This health issue has changed them irrevocably but by sharing with me, they expect our friendship to not change and for us to see each other the same way and full confidentiality.
To my friends who are grappling with health issues, so are others. Many are hiding behind invisible conditions/issues that are only known to them. It might feel terribly lonely to be the only one who seems to be facing such a problem especially among us, healthy young peers, but many are. Lastly, I wish for you to never lose hope, to get through this, cope well and receive all the love and care you need. I’m always a text away:)