When you are initially diagnosed with an illness that later becomes chronic it is not likely that you are thinking about how this may affect your social life. Naturally, you are focused on how to cope with the illness itself. As difficult as the illness can be, however, it can be just as difficult to see your social circle dwindle as your illness progresses.
Here are a few of the stages that people I know who have a chronic illness have experienced. I hope it helps to know you are not alone in this and you CAN have a social life AND a chronic illness.
When you are initially diagnosed family, co-workers and friends are usually very supportive. They cover your workload, accompany you to doctor’s visits, help with household tasks and call frequently to see how you are. The practicalities of the illness act as a strong link between you and them.
When an illness is prolonged, however, things begin to change. If you are no longer able to work your work colleagues are the first tier of your social circle that begins to go. This is a natural evolution and does not necessarily reflect badly upon your former workmates. They are moving on with their lives. You no longer have as much in common. Your experience is with the new world of your illness and not the old world of your career.
When the going gets tough
This is the true test of friendship. Be prepared for some friends to slowly disappear. Also be prepared for old friends who you have not seen regularly to come back into your life. Who sticks around, who leaves and who reappears is not always who you would expect it to be. Prepare to be surprised.
Social circle reinvention
There is no doubt that chronic illness limits your ability to be social but at some point in the illness you may have enough energy to want to start making new friends. Things will be different; what was important to you before will not be important now. When you are out of the work world you have the gift of having time to determine who and what makes you happy.
You may have a lot in common with others who have the same or similar illnesses. You may resume or take up hobbies that you used to be interested in. You may volunteer for a cause that you believe in. You can make new and solid friendships through being involved in activities you are committed to and enjoy.
And, hopefully, those tried and true old friends are still around to remind you of what you were and who you have become….