Thursday, November 6, 2014

Initiating Friendship when there Is Chronic Illness


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?

Image credit: "Friendship" by Wrote, used under CC. Adapted by Rachel Lundy.


This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

4 comments:

Tonya L said...

The biggest challenge in initiating friendships, besides the fact that I can't physically do much, is that when I try sending a message or something, I never hear back. I don't know why? It feels like a personal attack though. Maybe they don't know what to say but that's just it, I want to hear anything. The more included I am the happier I am.
The same thing happens when I do go out to group things,I try to talk but get stared at like I have two heads.
The most touching thing is when someone treats me and talks to me like I am just like everyone else.

Rachel Lundy said...

Hi Tonya, thanks for sharing your experience. That is discouraging to reach out in friendship and then have nothing reciprocated. I'm so sorry you have had this experience. I don't know why people haven't messaged you back. You are one of the sweetest people I know. My heart hurts for you. I wish you lived next door to me so that I could come and visit you!

dkzody said...

Whether through death or through illness, I have trouble knowing when to actually show up at a person's home. I don't want to overstep and yet I often feel like I'm not doing enough. I'm often not sure about food to take, either, for fear the person or family members have allergies or will only eat certain foods. I guess all that "not knowing" paralyzes me from doing anything.

Rachel Lundy said...

It is hard to know exactly what someone wants or needs. Every situation is a little different. Perhaps next time you could call or send a message to ask if you could bring a meal. You could also ask about food restrictions. Even if they say they don't need a meal, they will appreciate the fact that you thought of them.

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