Finding friends and building friendships can be challenging, and when someone has a chronic illness, that makes it even harder. Someone with a chronic illness may spend a lot of time at home because of physical needs and limitations. She may not be able to participate regularly in community activities or church events that would give her opportunities to meet others and easily develop friendships. For this reason, it is necessary to be intentional in pursuing friendship. This is true for those who are chronically ill and want to befriend someone who is healthy, and it is true for those who are healthy and want to befriend someone who is chronically ill.
Someone with a chronic illness may reach out in friendship in a small way, such as talking after church or sending a Facebook message. If she is especially ill, that might be all she can do. Because of her chronic illness, there is a limit to what she can do to reach out in friendship, and those who don’t understand her limitations might not recognize her actions as offers of friendship. Her offer of friendship might not be reciprocated, but perhaps it isn’t because someone doesn’t want to be her friend. Perhaps it is because the person thinks, "Oh, I don't want to bother her. She's tired and needs to rest. If she is up for talking, she will contact me.”
If you have a chronic illness, before giving up on a potential friendship, maybe you should be bold and say outright, "I would love to be friends with you! Do you want to keep in touch through email, or would you like to come over and visit sometime?" This lets it be known that you want to be friends. Hopefully it will put the other person at ease, letting her know that you would love to be friends even if you are tired.
Someone who is healthy might reach out in friendship to someone with a chronic illness by asking if she may visit or bring a meal, or perhaps by sending a card in the mail or stopping by with a gift. Someone who is healthy and reaching out in friendship may be surprised to learn that her intentions of friendship might not be recognized. As one who has been chronically ill for a long time, I have discovered that it can be hard to know when someone wants to be my friend and when someone wants to reach out in service to me because I am a member of her church or community. Both are needed, and both are appreciated, but it can be hard to gauge what someone’s intentions are.
One person may bring over a meal because she wants to reach out to the woman with a chronic illness and help her in a practical way. She may not have the time or emotional energy to invest in a friendship with the chronically ill person, but she desires to help relieve some of the physical burden and show that she cares. Another person may bring a meal to a woman with a chronic illness because she wants to show that she cares, and because she wants to reach out in friendship. She has the time and emotional energy to invest in the one who is chronically ill, and she wants to move beyond acts of service and also be a friend and give emotional support. The actions of both women are good, needed, and appreciated, but if you desire to befriend someone with a chronic illness, it may be helpful to state that desire.
If you are healthy and want to be friends with someone who has a chronic illness, I encourage you to let her know that you want to be friends! You could say something like, “I would love to be friends with you. If you have enough energy, may I come over and visit you occasionally or take you out for lunch? If you aren’t up for visits, would you like to keep in touch through email or text messages?”
If you are healthy, it may be challenging to know how to befriend someone who is chronically ill. If you have a chronic illness, then it may be challenging to know how to befriend someone who is healthy. We all need friends, and it is worth facing those challenges and pursuing friendship! Let us be bold, and let us pursue friendship intentionally. Friends are worth it!
Let’s hear from you!
If you are healthy, what challenges have you found in pursuing friendship with someone who is chronically ill? What do you wish someone with a chronic illness would do in pursuing friendship with you?
If you have a chronic illness, what challenges have you found in pursuing friendship with someone who is healthy? What do you wish someone who is healthy would do in pursuing friendship with you?
This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.