I’m looking forward to the not-so-distant future when I will have had both of the COVID-19 vaccination shots and will feel free to venture out into the world again. Yes, I’ll still wear a mask or two, keep at least 6 feet away from other people, and continue to wash my hands as frequently as possible. But I won’t feel obligated to stay at home or be fearful of having the plumber in my kitchen.
I’m anticipating that others will be as grateful as I am to be out and about. As a result, I’ll find a friendlier, more welcoming world than the one I left behind last March. And I anticipate meeting new people. Further, I’m hoping that some of the people I meet will become new friends.
It has been my experience that when new acquaintances enjoy a similar mindset or activity, a preliminary bond results, be it a friendship or a romance. If one acknowledges that bond, they may meet for coffee or at another social venue where they can learn more about each other. This is when it gets a bit sticky for a person with fibromyalgia.
The issue for anyone with an invisible illness is deciding how honest to be, and when. If the get-to-know-you session goes well, you usually make plans to do something together in the future. So, is this the point when you divulge that you can’t guarantee your attendance? Or, do you opt not to mention your health issues until the need arises?
There are valid reasons for using either of these tactics. If you choose to share your diagnosis early on, you risk coming across as someone who complains or focuses on illness. This might be a red flag for your new friend, who may wish to limit their social circle to positive people or to those who can participate in the physical activities they enjoy. You could also put your potential friend in the uncomfortable position of not knowing how to respond. The risk is that hearing your truth too early may be enough to end this relationship before it begins.
On the other hand, if you refrain from explaining your limitations and a true relationship develops, this is terrific — until the first time you need to cancel an engagement for health reasons. At this point, your new friend may wonder why you weren’t truthful sooner. Or, worse yet, they may wonder if you simply received a better offer that day.
It’s a touchy situation that people with invisible illnesses face every time they form a new relationship. Chances are that on the day you felt well enough to meet a new person, your health issues were under control. So, should you immediately admit that not every day is like this for you?
My solution has always been to spoon-feed information to people I meet, unless and until full disclosure becomes necessary. At first, I might mention some small physical issue — not enough to raise a red flag. The next time, I might reveal that I’d had a bad week, but not provide details. Another time, I might blame fatigue for causing me to leave early.
By our fourth or fifth get-together, if my new friend hadn’t already asked, I would likely reveal the extent of my illness. However, if asked sooner, I would tell them sooner. As in all other aspects of life, I find that honesty is the best policy. Besides, it’s inevitable that your limited capabilities and sporadic attendance will soon become apparent.
So, it’s all about the timing. The best scenario is having the opportunity to demonstrate enough of yourself and your uniqueness by the time that your limitations become obvious. At that point, they no longer matter. A friend, or even a potential friend, will appreciate you for who you are rather than for what you can or cannot do.
Note: Fibromyalgia 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 Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.