I recently started thinking again about a phenomenon I first experienced at the nadir of my health woes 14 years ago, and several times since. I wondered briefly about it each time it happened, but was too beleaguered and distracted to dwell on it. To wit: on several occasions I developed noticeable symptoms over a short period of time that were visible to others. Twice I developed slurred speech, stammering, and word loss. For a while my memory was so bad I couldn’t repeat a telephone number back to you or remember articles I had edited two months before. I also once gained 21 pounds in six weeks (a 15% weight gain).

Not one person ever mentioned any of this to me. Not my closest friends, not family members, not medium-close friends or friends at work, not coworkers or bosses or mentors, and not doctors.

Is that not peculiar? It’s not like I had a small social group. I had several sets of friends and several groups of family members I visited, and I worked in busy offices where I interacted with dozens of people every day.

So, yeah, thanks for being understanding and all, except that whatever questions my behavior raised were asked behind my back, with no input from me. This is bad. I have no idea now if that behavior was a factor in employment offers or project assignments or social invitations or lack thereof.

Obviously some friends were going through their own shit or had distractions of their own, but still. Your support network, or whatever you call the group of people you think will tell you when you’re walking funny and have weird marks on the back of your neck after aliens abduct you and wipe your memory, should be tight enough that they don’t all fail you at once.

I always prided myself on my “nice” friends, but now I think they are not the people you want around when things go bad. For one thing, they might be your friends only because they’re too nice NOT to be your friend. They don’t cull their social contacts enough. Or because they want to be perceived as a nice person and don’t even think about what they actually want in a friend.

I did an inventory of all the friends I’ve had that I could trust to tell me something unflattering about myself without being mean-spirited. There have been 2.5. All were 1,500 miles away during the aforementioned episodes. Friend 1 would not hesitate to tell me if I was handling a situation gracelessly. As in, “You’re being an asshole.” I’m guessing whatever reticence she had was burned away after giving birth to five kids in seven years. Friend 2 gave me feedback that would’ve been helpful a lot earlier and that I’m still grateful for, as in, “People think you’re weird when you do that.” In turn I suggested it was time she considered an eyeshadow color other than sparkly turquoise. “This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” she said. Friend 2.5 could be trusted to tell me something bad but only if it related to my physical appearance. As in, “That dress is not bohemian, it’s Dust Bowl.”

Friend 2 turned out to be on the lam from embezzlement charges. As for Friend 2.5, although she is a fairly respectable citizen now, in high school she removed all the PCs from the computer lab, loaded them into a pickup, and dumped them in a ravine. Make of that what you will.

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