A letter to the people that have left me

Dear (insert your own name here),

When illness takes your life away, it’s easy to forget that it’s not responsible for every single thing you’ve lost. People are responsible for how they act, my illness isn’t to blame. Despite how systematically it has dismantled my life and prospects, its reach isn’t so long that it can affect anyone but me. I can, for the sake of simplicity, blame my illness for the people that have abandoned me or used my condition to their advantage, but it’s not down to my condition at all. It’s you.

How other people react to what I’m feeling says nothing about me, but a hell of a lot about them. That even my closest friends didn’t really care when I became seriously ill and had to leave my home in Cambridge; that they put the onus on me — a broken, exhausted, and challenged man — to maintain relationships and make visits if I wanted human company; that they heard nothing I told them about how I felt or the ramifications of chronic illness; that they cheated me, let me down, and abandoned me; that these people I trusted and to whom I was supposed to have meaningful connections walked away and left me to the chaos of my illness, it speaks only of their failings.

You didn’t get away with it. I haven’t forgotten that you didn’t care, nor will I. Ignorance isn’t an excuse, being busy isn’t an excuse — there are no excuses. It’s not bitterness, rather it’s a sign of the magnitude of what you did and of what you continue to do. You left me to the vacuum of my own body as it tried to kill me. You did it because you didn’t understand what was happening, my sickness didn’t have a reputation; I didn’t have something you could comprehend immediately. The sad, sick truth is I’d still have friends if I had cancer. Cancer’s easy: cancer=bad. There’s nothing to work out and nothing to understand, the word cancer is its own information packet. Chronic illness, however, “who knows? You look fine.” The kicker: you didn’t really want to know, you didn’t want to understand.

You could have asked or taken two minutes to search Google. It takes very little time to assemble the information of how sickness ruins peoples’ lives. But if my own family won’t do that, maybe I can’t expect disinterested friends to do so.

In turning up occasionally for a two-minute chat, you’re not erasing the stream of messages left before it from when I needed you. In turning to me when things get tough for you, you’re not maintaining our relationship you’re demonstrating how little it matters to you. In sending me a message on my birthday because Facebook told you to, you’re just reminding me that you’ve been silent the rest of the year. You can pretend to yourself that I was the one that disappeared — your ignorance let’s you do that —but you can’t make believe that you haven’t done something heinous: that you didn’t betray my trust.

I’ve lost my life to my illness, but I haven’t changed. Illness has tried to make me into a bitter and callous person, but it’s failed. What it never tried to do was make other people the same, you did that yourself.