Having a chronic illness means I’ve found it hard to make and maintain friendships. I became ill when I was at school, a vital time in making (and keeping) friends. I couldn’t attend lessons, social events, or do any ‘normal’ activities, so I lost contact with most of my peers. Even now I’m older, I find one of the hidden challenges of my condition to be making and maintaining friendships.
After spending over a decade mainly confined to my house, I knew that I would have to find a less conventional way of making friends. Chronic illness support groups, social media, and charities are all places I found useful for making new contacts and I’ve now made lifelong friends through the chronic illness community. But it can sometimes be overwhelming and I would use recommend using these resources, as with anything public, with caution. Throughout the years I’ve learned how to take a step back from it when needed, but also stay an advocate and part of a crucial support network.
I have made some amazing friends in the past few months outside the chronic illness community, but I constantly feel awkward about my access needs. We have to go to accessible places, only stay for an hour, visit somewhere allergy-friendly, plan for if I get ill etc. I’m lucky that they understand, but I always feel like I’m a burden, even though I shouldn’t. It’s important to remember, that if they are your friends, they will adapt to your needs and support you; don’t be scared to speak up!
No matter how many friends I have, I still feel alone. Living with a chronic illness is incredibly isolating. Although people may have the same condition as me, no-one is living with my version of the condition. Having friends by me means an awful lot, but I can still feel like I am going through an awful lot of symptoms and emotions on my own.
How To Support A Friend With A Chronic Illness
Supporting someone with a chronic illness takes patience, love, and perseverance. Understand that they might cancel at the last minute due to unpredictable health. Adapt to their situation, so if they are now a wheelchair user, it might mean finding a new accessible coffee shop to visit. Listen and learn about what you can do to help them.
Please know that friendships mean so much to someone who has a chronic condition, especially those who are isolated. Know that they might not be in touch for a while because they are so tired, but they still think of you often. Thank you for your efforts, understanding, and support. Thank you for supporting me.