Social triage

caitlin team

I miss these amazing women — the team at my radiation clinic. This was Nov. 15, 2018, my final day of treatment.


By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve written a lot here about trying to find community and loneliness.

But social triage is also  — as we say — “a thing.”

Just as ER and conflict medical staff triage patients into: will die, might die, treat first, we tend to decide who’s going to be closest to us and to which friends, or family, we’ll devote the bulk of whatever time and affection we can spare.

I was diagnosed in late May 2018 with very early-stage breast cancer and am, thankfully, fine. But it has, as serious illness tends to do, made much clearer to me who I most want in my life and who, now, I really don’t.

(Others have made the same decision about me — three former friendships died a long time ago. It happens.)




So who are the people I now want closest and treasure most?


— We laugh a lot.

— We make consistent and concerted efforts to see one another face to face, even if only by Skype across an ocean.

— Regular long phone conversations — texts and emojis are just not enough.

— Regular play dates: coffee, lunch, a museum or show.

— Some have accompanied me to medical appointments, their mere presence a tremendous comfort.

— Months may go by without much contact, but we trust one another’s affection and loyalty to know that life gets crazy and we will re-connect.

— We send one another little gifts or cards just because we can.

— They really understand that life can be frightening, and show compassion for fear, anxiety and tears. They don’t flee when times are difficult.



market 04

Those left behind?


— It’s always all about them. They don’t even draw breath before launching into a 20-minute monologue.

— They never simply ask “How are you doing?”

— So much drrrrrraaaaaaaama! Exhausting.

— People who radiate haste and anxiety. Much as I have compassion for them, I stay far away. I have enough anxiety of my own.

— People with no sense of perspective, who whine and complain about issues that are for them enormous — but which in the larger scheme of things are minor and easily resolved.

— People who never initiate contact but wait for me to jump-start every meeting.

— People unable to know how much their own challenges are already softened by the privileges of good health and enough income.


Have you become more selective about your friendships?

21 thoughts on “Social triage

  1. Kinda tunneled into family mode only so I can also make room to write. Living away from old friends and family, I never really made the effort to make new friends cuz I figured the old ones were just fine, although I never see any of them anymore! By design, a little, I must confess.

  2. The Hippy Chic

    First, I would like to take a moment and celebrate your recovery! I am beyond thrilled for you, and I am a survivor as well. Cervical. I am going to share the crap out of this, reblog it and call it a day. Your lists are my lists, to a tee. Be blessed.

  3. Sara Hoffman

    Reblogged this on The Hippy Chic and commented:
    This is the best thing that happened to me today, and I am sharing it with you. When you face life altering and possibly life-ending circumstances, everything falls into crystal clear perspective. Her lists are my lists, we celebrate her recovery and I’ll shut my fat Irish trap now.

  4. I wonder how your care team would like it if you dropped off a lunch one day–or bagels for the whole crew, etc. I think so many times they don’t get the appreciation they deserve. People who care for others for a living simply amaze me. And as for my own relationships, yes–there has been some pruning. I try hard to stay for the lessons but leave when/if it gets unhealthy and persistently one-sided. Never easy . . .

  5. I’ve now gone through a few periods where I’ve deliberately edited my social life and world. Several batches of pruning social media, including stepping away from whole platforms, friendships and connections that I’ve let draw to a natural conclusion or end, and in some cases even aggressively curtailing access by friends and even family members. While I’ve certainly been clumsy in some cases, it’s all been for a collective good and helped me learn to set and maintain healthy boundaries in adulthood.

    It’s also helped me cultivate the relationships that provide the most joy, meaning, and mutual support. I now have a smaller but robust cluster of very important friends where we all make the effort to communicate and engage with regularly and meaningfully.

    Learning WHICH relationships to cultivate (even and perhaps especially which ones that might be difficult for whatever reason but deserve effort) and which to let gracefully pass has been an important life lesson.

    1. I think if you come out of a difficult, even abusive family of origin — which I sure did — “love” and affection can look mighty skewed when you start to make choices as an adult of who we REALLY want near us and who we have been accepting/tolerating because their shitty behavior is merely familiar and we think we should or we just have to.

      This has been a huge lesson for me, and am trying to be nice to myself about this. You don’t know love and kindness and loyalty until you know it.

  6. Heide

    Congratulations on having the courage to distance yourself from the “emotional vampires” in your life, Caitlin. Your list of Those Left Behind reads surprisingly similar to mine.

  7. We’re not really friends in the sense that we like to think of the word. Facebook has diluted the strength of that word to the point where it’s pretty much a throw-away most of the time. I enjoy reading your stuff, even when I don’t agree with it, so whenever it comes along I give it a look and comment when it seems appropriate to do so. I could say I’m honored to be allowed inside your mind, but even that doesn’t make us friends.
    On the other side of this, I could ask “Why should I follow someone who doesn’t follow me”? Does that make me not really a friend, but something more like a fan or a disciple? Not really. Like the rest of us, I decide what’s a pearl and who is a swine.
    I have seven real, honest to shit good friends. None of them read my blog but they all care what I think, so that’s good enough for me. There’s coffee and long conversations and “Hey, man, I need to borrow your truck” , friends doing what friends do.
    The part of this dynamic that I can’t stand is when my friends/loved ones start knocking heads. If it was just them going at it, that would be one thing. Add me to the mix and then you get politics, and that means I’m going to lose no matter what. It hurts my head and breaks my heart.
    Sorry we’re not really friends, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you. Tomorrow’s another day. (Thank you Scarlett).

    1. Don’t be offended by that…I have NO TIME. Jose and I have to hustle so so so hard every day to find paid work it’s insane — I lost 3 weeks’ anticipated income this month when a client’s budget was suddenly cut and another anticipated sum when a steady client just went tits-up TODAY with zero warning. It is a scramble and it’s really time consuming.

      I spend most of my time trying to find paid work. The little time and energy I have left over goes to friends, husband, reading for work/pleasure, life. Plus endless medical stuff.

      My attention is far more spoken for than I would ever ideally prefer.

      1. Really, I totally get it. I don’t feel like you’re blowing me off, and I write more here than I do on my own blog, so it isn’t like you don’t get a tasty helping of what I think. I’m also just about flattered by the well considered responses you give to my stuff, instead of a like or a smiley face. Thanks for that, a lot.
        I guess we could be homies or something.

      2. Always…I know that everyone who even finds the time to visit this blog, read it and then comment has committed energy they could easily spend elsewhere. I NEVER take this for granted!

        It seems basic courtesy to me as I see this as a conversation, not a monologue.

  8. I think it takes a lot of experience and courage to get to the point when we are able to do this and know that it is the right thing for our own peace of mind and emotional balance. I have less people that I am truly close to now, but I have gained a stronger sense of friendship, love, and belonging in the process.

    1. I think it’s easier for some people than for others. I wish I’d made these boundaries clearer a long time. It’s also obvious that — you know — you clear out the deadwood, so to speak, but the people in our lives are people we truly value and enjoy.

      1. Yes, I wish I had been confident enough to have done this earlier in life too, but we each travel on our journey at our own speed. Your response is spot on.

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