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Friendship and chronic illness

Published: November 23, 2013 | Last Updated: September 28, 2023 By | 4 Replies Continue Reading
How do you maintain friendships with an unpredictable chronic illness?


I have a chronic illness that often keeps me housebound. I also have severe allergies that prevent me from doing many activities that involve crowds or require me to be inside of most public buildings or homes. The outdoors is often okay.

I have two very good friends from before I became ill, but we live far from each other, and I would very much like to meet people closer to home to interact with.

How does one make – and keep – friends with these restrictions? How does one keep a friendship going when you can never predict whether you will be well enough to get together on any given day? I look at my life going forward with this illness and it seems a very lonely one unless I can figure this out.

Signed Lauren


Dear Lauren,

I could have written your letter a few years ago and I understand the challenges of meeting new people when you have physical limitations. You don’t say how long you’ve been ill, so this might not apply to you, but in my case, there has been a learning curve of managing my energy, resting up for several days before and after an outing is helpful and planning shorter, rather than day long activities help with pain prevention.

Rather than looking for friends (because that’s a lot of pressure), perhaps you can seek out potential acquaintances—people with whom to enjoy a cup of coffee. Explore the resources you already have—neighbors, church, etc. Since public places are often restrictive, you could invite someone over for coffee. Your local library probably has monthly (or weekly) book discussion groups, which is another avenue for meeting new like-minded people, if you can tolerate that atmosphere for an hour or two.

Use the Internet to seek out message boards for others with conditions similar to you. If there isn’t one, start a Facebook group. I met a group of breast cancer survivors online and while no one lives near me, a woman who lives 45 minutes away came for lunch last month and we had a lovely time. Our group also gets together once or twice a year for a long weekend. We text, talk on the phone, and online. If you take the initiative within the group, you can help facilitate an atmosphere of friendship. I organized a Pollyanna (AKA Secret Santa) everyone is having a lot of fun with that. I feel closer to all the women with such activities.

While online friendships certainly don’t replace those in real time, you can potentially meet folks who live close enough to you to visit occasionally. My only caution with this is to go slow with your head and your heart, because it takes a long time to really know people and sometimes online relationships feel more intimate than they actually can be in such a short period of time.

I’d also ask your doctor if she has any resources for meeting people with similar health issues. Sometimes hospitals, through their social work department, have groups. If not, maybe your doctor can help you start a group, because I guarantee you there are many others exactly in your position.

I realize you’d probably like to meet a variety of people, not just those who are also sick. If you’re well enough to volunteer even once or twice a month, you can meet folks with similar interests and values. Check with your library, church, neighborhood elementary school, or food bank.

Because you’re not able to work and often housebound, you will probably have to take more initiative than you would otherwise, and the process might be slower, but you can find friends and acquaintances.

Some key tips:

  • Start slowly, most friends started as acquaintances
  • Take the initiative inviting people and starting groups
  • Manage your energy
  • Don’t get discouraged, keep trying

Good luck.

Amy Feld*

*Amy Feld, PhD, MSW has trained and worked as a child psychologist.

**No information provided here or elsewhere on this blog is intended as medical advice. The blog focuses on everyday friendship problems.

Some prior posts on The Friendship Blog on friendship and chronic illness

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Category: MAKING FRIENDS, Where to meet friends

Comments (4)

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  1. Helen Woods says:

    Finding your blog was a revelation. But you are so far away!

    Do you have links to Uk where I live in Salisbury in the southwest.



  2. This is an excellent post, Irene, and one I will share with my MS groups. The question of friendships comes up constantly, but most particularly during the holidays. It can be a lonely time for many. I love your suggestions. I look forward to passing your post along.

    Thanks for all you do – always~

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