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Why It’s Hard to Make New Friends When You’re Chronically Ill

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My husband and I recently graduated from college and moved to a new town for work. It has been about six months, but we’re still struggling to make friends. I don’t get out of the house much, and after work and making dinner, all I want to do is soak in an Epsom salt bath and then crawl into bed with a good book. My husband will go out with some guy friends to watch sports every once in a while, but if I’m having a flare, he knows I will need him home to make sure I’m alright.

I’m an introvert and I usually don’t mind spending long periods of time alone with my thoughts, but lately I have been terribly lonely. I wish I had someone who wouldn’t mind stopping by to watch Netflix, bring dinner when I’m too tired to cook or just chat.

When that’s your idea of a friend, it can be really difficult, if not impossible, to find someone who thinks of friendship the same way. First of all, where do you find friends like that? Most of the articles I’ve read online tell me that making friends as an adult is like dating — you have to “put yourself out there.” These articles suggest going to events you enjoy, joining clubs in order to find others with similar interests or just hanging out at a bar.

Well, when the “events” I enjoy consist of long warm baths, naps and ordering takeout (or sending my husband to pick it up), how am I supposed to meet anyone?

I do attend an aqua therapy class once a week for those with arthritis or fibromyalgia, but I am the youngest by approximately 40 to 45 years. I also attend a chronic pain support group once a month and I find it very helpful, but again, I am the youngest. And maybe it sounds selfish, but I would like to have some friends who don’t have a chronic illness — people I could call if I needed help with something or someone to hang out with when I can’t leave the house.

In an effort to be more optimistic about my chronic illness (one of my resolutions for 2017), let’s imagine that I have actually found a suitable place to meet potential friends, a place where 20-somethings hang out that isn’t too loud, too overly stimulating and doesn’t drain my energy in the first five minutes after walking through the door. Then what?

Suppose I strike up a conversation with someone and we end up talking for a while, asking each other questions and comparing interests. At the end of the conversation when they suggest hanging out later in the week, should I just say yes and hope they aren’t thinking of some extravagant activity that will leave me in bed for three days? When should I mention my chronic illness, my penchant for quiet evenings at home and my tendency to cancel plans at the last minute? Should I be up front and risk losing a friend before I’ve even really made a friend in the first place? Should I let the truth come out in its own time and just hope they will like me enough by then to actually stick around?

See my difficulty? There doesn’t seem to be any easy way to make friends without being hurt (emotionally, physically or both) in the process.

I really wish that I could end this story on a successful note, but for now that’s not the case. I still don’t have any friends. I don’t have anyone I can call when I’m feeling horrible and don’t want to be alone, but I want to give my husband a break from being my caretaker. I don’t have anyone I can text when I realize there’s no way I can stand up long enough to make a meal. I don’t have anyone I can trust to see me without my “mask” on, without pretending I’m OK until I make it back home.

And I’m completely unsure of how or where to find them.

This is an ongoing journey for me, and perhaps it is for many of you as well. If you’d like to come along with me as I learn how to make friends while living with my chronic illness, just press the green “follow me” button. Hopefully, we can help each other out.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: January 9, 2017
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