chronic pain/fibromyalgia · friends · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · prayer

Friends and Fibromyalgia

No one can really tell you how chronic illness will affect your life. It is a bumpy road with unexpected twists and turns. In so many ways, it has mirrored my road towards conversion. My day-to-day life has changed so much.

I make blessings on food but it’s hard to hold a siddur (prayerbook) in my hands. I can’t talk on the phone on Shabbos but honestly, talking on the phone at all is now a painful process for me now. That means those hours I used to spend on the phone with friends are now nonexistent. The way fibromyalgia has affected me most is by isolating me and making it difficult to maintain the intense friendships I had before. And just as I’ve lost friendships because of my decision to convert, I’ve lost friendships because of my fibromyalgia.

Rivkah was my adoptive mom throughout my conversion. Whenever I arrived at shul, she’d come over to me and envelope me in a gentle hug. She tried not to set off any of the tender points (pain hotspots) all over my neck, arms and back. When I used to say my husband and I were staying by my family, I meant Rivkah.

Rivkah tried to help me acclimate to my new Jewish surroundings. She fed me terrifying Ashkenazi dishes and insisted I learn to cook “Jewish” foods. I squirmed in my chair but I tried everything I could stomach. When she told me to get over my childhood, I raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. When both Rivkah and her husband spoke to me in anger because I was trying to arrange to have a Shabbos dinner with my deadbeat dad who they had labeled a “lost cause,” I was quiet.

When I got sick, felled first by fibromyalgia and its chronic pain and fatigue and then by just as crippling depression, I cried on Rivkah’s shoulder. She listened but she was more concerned about my unemployment than my losing battle with depression. She urged me towards different doctors even though I told her mine was already doing everything he could. Basically, Rivkah became my sometimes intrusive but always loving Jewish mother.

I tried to escape my harsh reality at Rivkah’s house. It was the one place in the world where I could be myself. In her home, I thought I didn’t have to worry about the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate. Rivkah’s house was my home, too. I finally understood how other adult children felt when they went home to regress and be coddled by their parents.

After my last meal at Rivkah’s house, I received a scathing email. It detailed all the ways I had been inappropriate at the Shabbos table. Every single indictment was true. I had greeted everyone begrudgingly…through gritted teeth from the pain. I had put my socked feet up on her couch…when my back hurt from the pain. I hadn’t passed things at the table…because I was suffering from poor motor control because of the pain. I hadn’t offered to pour anyone water…because I was afraid I’d wet the whole table as I had done many times before. I always served myself first…eager to get it out of the way. I had even left the table, without excusing myself, to lie down…when the pain made it difficult to follow conversation. I never came back to the table. My husband found me curled up in exhausted sleep later.

I apologized for being rude. I apologized for being sick. But in the end, my apologies were not enough. My forever friendship ended with the last click of one final email. I was orphaned again. Sometimes, I can’t wrap my head around how many of my friendships have ended so dramatically. Maybe it has something to do with being a dramatic person myself.

But really, most of the friendships my conversion and fibromyalgia have deeply impacted have had quieter sendoffs. I can’t call. They don’t call. I can’t make it out to see them very often. They don’t make it out to see me. When I see advertisements for older folk who want people to visit them, I know exactly how they feel. Were it not for the Internet, my world would also be quite lonely. The friends I am really grateful for are the ones that are ever patient, the ones who understand when I have to cancel plans last minute again and again and the ones who continue to invite me to their homes for meals though I never invite them to mine. Perhaps, what fibromyalgia has done is whittled down my list of pals to include only the dearest of friends.

11 thoughts on “Friends and Fibromyalgia

  1. Oy, Aliza. I’m so sorry that this friendship ended — via email!? — because of such an experience. But those who stay truest to you, those who are close when you need them, but don’t disappear because contact is not easiest, those are the ones who understand your value.


  2. I’ve been a reader for awhile (referred from Chaviva’s blog, where I also lurk) …. just wanted to pass along some support over the internets. I’m so sorry you have to deal with the unfair fallout of that awful disease. You are an amazing person.


  3. Well I can’t imagine how anyone would feel your behaviour was problematic. In 13 years of marriage I’ve had guests who stayed for days without taking showers, whipped out flasks of Scotch at our Shabbat table, arranged a dinner party at my home to announce their impending divorce, and who swore at a terminially ill 80 something who had joined us for Rosh Hashanah. Believe me Senora Jewminicana, at your worst you would never come close to these sorts of troubled souls. So let me know when you and Rabbi Hausman will be joining us here in Chicago for a Shabbat and Chag Seudah.All the best!


  4. It sucks royally. All I can offer is an ear. And an air hug. If it helps you feel less blech, I cant fast. ever. Fast days are my personal hell, because everyone thinks I’m exagerrating.


  5. Unsolicited outburst from a stranger alert!Please, please believe that what I’m about to say has nothing to do with the merits of your position or Rivkah’s. (It sounds like some people could stand to be a tiny bit more mellow re: shabbos table decorum…as though many frum kids are anything but wild animals at the table.) (Someday you should do a piece on kid behavior mores…I’d have been whipped for even 10% of the stuff that many frum kids pull right there in shul lobbies.)I was also, as a convert, affected by your piece on (hypothetical) church weddings. It ain’t easy.But in memory of a college friend, whose yahrzeit is coming up in just a few days, I wanted to say something. Consider finding a way to bury the hatchet. My late friend and I had no standing quarrel, thank God. **But much of our relationship was colored by the understandably high pitch of my emotions in the difficult days (years) surrounding my conversion.** He wasn’t at his best either, being just a kid then, but I know what my demons were, and they were mostly sociology-of-conversion-related. We didn’t part enemies, but we parted on ambivalent terms. I say this as a fellow convert from a very alien (albeit white) culture, who has also contended with minority-within-a-minority issues as a (gasp) physically disabled (formerly) single woman. Since his untimely and unbelievably awful death, I have been haunted most of all by thoughts of what would happen if I were to lose the chance to bury the hatchet with some other people from those difficult days who are thankfully alive and well. I am trying to make amends in his memory.


  6. Thanks, Sarah. I did try to bury the hatchett with this friend and many others but alas, things don’t always have happy endings. I am a big believer in the idea that some people are just meant to be in our lives for certain reasons at certain times and eventually, sometimes, we outgrow each other.


  7. So true. For me the question is not becoming friends again (that would, as you note, be impossible in many cases), but at least having no unfinished business. In my case (not saying it should be in yours) I’ve been writing letters saying, you know, we have come to an impasse and that’s a shame, but I do value the time we had. That way I could live in relative peace if something terrible happened. It’s hard.


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