Unlike those playground years, it’s a lot more challenging to make new friends as an adult. Everyone’s busy with work, travel or family, so most of us spend our precious time with the people we already know and love.
When you’re a grownup with a chronic illness, forming and maintaining friendships becomes even more difficult. How and where do you meet interesting people when don’t have the energy to go out after work, or worse, when you can barely leave your home?
Even if you’re able to socialize, you probably face some obstacles. Maybe your illness forces you to open up about personal things early on, or you’d love to hang out but struggle to share your limitations without scaring someone off. It might also be hard for relative strangers to understand how your chronic illness affects your everyday life.
Does that mean it’s impossible to make new friends when you’re chronically ill? Of course not – just like everything else related to health problems, it’s only more challenging.
Take a look at 7 ideas how you can still meet new people and grow supportive friendships despite chronic illness.
1. Expand and strengthen your existing network
No matter how small your social circle is, you already know some old (school)friends, family members and (ex) colleagues. If meeting new people seems daunting, why not nourish the relationships you already have?
Reconnect with old acquaintances and long lost friends you’d like to get in touch with. Say hi to your neighbours and ask them over for a cup of coffee. Reach out to friends of friends – you know, the people you mingle with at birthday parties. Or maybe someone from your church would love to come over for a chat?
2. Be social on social media
Yes, we’ve all heard the downsides of (over)using Facebook and Instagram, but for people with chronic illness, social media can be a great way to connect with existing friends and befriend new people. After all, the Internet was created for interaction.
Join local groups on Facebook, follow hashtags on Twitter, or leave a kind comment under an Insta picture from someone you’d like to know better. Get in touch with people who like the same things you like.
Of course, always play it safe when talking to new people online. Don’t swap personal details and if you want to meet up in real life, choose a public place.
3. Connect with other spoonies
It’s nice to have someone to talk to who understand what you’re going through. Someone who can relate and may even have some tried-and-tested tips on how to overcome part of your problems.
For most long-term illnesses, there are in-person patient support groups. You can find them through your treating physicians, hospitals or patients’ organizations that advocate for specific diseases. Besides sharing experiences, some patients’ organizations also run supervised group exercise programs, so you can work on your own definition of recovery with your peers.
You can also find support form other spoonies online. The Mighty is a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health problems and disability. With more than 2 million registered users, there’s always someone to chat with. Healing Well and Spoonie Village are also online health communities that provides support forums. Alternatively, you could try Facebook support groups for your specific illness.
One side note: Make sure you connect on more levels with your new spoonie friends than just sharing an illness. Otherwise, it’s easy to get sucked into a negative cycle, when sharing becomes complaining and relating turns into over-identifying with your illness. No matter how much your health affects your life – and I know it does! – you’re still more than your symptoms and limitations.
4. Share common interests
When playing sports or taking music lessons is no longer an option, you can still meet interesting individuals who share the same hobbies as you. The Tired Girl Society runs various online hobby clubs for women with chronic illness. You can virtually get together with other spoonies to chat about creative art, healthy cooking or travel. Online multiplayer games could also be a fun way to make new friends without leaving home.
To find ‘your people’, you could also like fan pages of your favorite band or sports team, follow hashtags on Instagram or join (civil!) discussion groups about your political views or causes you support.
Finally, there are many online courses available about just about any topic you can imagine. Occasionally, these courses also contain message boards to exchange ideas about your interests. You can connect with other keen learners on Coursera, study up on Arts or Social Sciences through your country’s Open University, or join an online language learning community to immerse yourself in the French language.
5. Join an online (book) club
Another easy way to find common ground, is joining an online book club. One of the world’s most famous book clubs was founded by Oprah Winfrey, and Oprah’s Book Club is still bringing your inspiring reads today.
And of course, Goodreads features book clubs and discussion boards around every literary topic imaginable. For example, actress Emma Watson runs Our Shared Self, a feminist book club that reads and discusses literary works around the themes of gender, equality and justice.
If your health stops you from keeping up with a monthly pace, you can also google different reading challenges and see which one you’d like to participate in.
6. Find a buddy
If you struggle to make new friends because you’re stuck at home, a buddy might just be for you. Depending on where you live, a Buddy Program matches you with a volunteer who offers companionship on a regular basis.
The soon-to-be-launched SufferBuddy app also connects you with both mentors and peers with similar conditions for support.
7. Try a low-energy group activity
If you can go out occasionally, you could participate in a group activity that’s relatively low-key. Maybe there’s a choir or trivia team in your town that you can join whenever you feel good. Or perhaps you can help out in a local community garden?
When you meet new people, don’t be afraid to make the first move. Strike up a conversation about the event or ask an interested question. Also, don’t take it personal if someone isn’t up for a chat or doesn’t become a close friend. Often, it doesn’t have anything to you. People are just busy with their own lives.
Don’t let one disappointing meetup discourage you and keep reaching out to the people around you. Because as the saying goes: “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met.”
How do you make new friends when you’re chronically ill?
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