Chronic illness AND a social life?

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….

Coping with chronic illness: step-by-step


I have a chronic illness. This has led me to become sensitized to how people cope and how they may define recovery given the nature of a chronic illness. Anyone could probably tell you that there are stages that you go through. These have been widely written about. As is often the case we all have our own way of dealing with things; see if you can relate to what I have found to be true for me. These stages are not mutually exclusive; we can be participating in more than one at a time and can keep recycling through. I try to keep in mind that it is important not to judge myself or others based upon how each of us is uniquely coping with our illness.


If you have enjoyed good health throughout your life having less than optimal health can be quite challenging. My first response to my illness was to ignore my symptoms and try harder and harder to do the work that I had always felt I was called to do in my professional career. I ignored the warning signs, increased my stress level and, consequently, my symptoms became much worse.

Seeking expert guidance

As my symptoms worsened I went to my primary doctor and many specialists to try to find out what was wrong with me. I turned myself over to the medical profession for my care. I believed in the medical profession. I got some answers but the puzzle of my illness continued. Things remained unexplained even after I received a diagnosis. When I attempted to express my concerns I felt that I was dismissed and misunderstood. I became resentful and angry.


I began to feel a little better but not enough to continue on with all the demands in my personal and work lives. I was dissatisfied with this state of affairs. I began to seek out answers on my own. I read academic journal articles, alternative health blogs and participated in forums. This was the beginning of taking back more control of my health and feeling empowered to move forward in an informed and collaborative way with a physician who had a deeper understanding of the illness I was diagnosed with.


I experienced a great deal of frustration with the medical system throughout this time. Only at this point, however, did I have enough energy to look outside of my own needs to see how other people with my diagnosis were also struggling to find answers and proper care. I started a support group with others whom I had met on forums. I got involved in efforts to promote awareness on the local level. I went to the state capital to advocate for the needs of our community.


This has taken several years! I still have many of the same symptoms. I have seen some improvements and am hopeful about the future. My attitude has changed; I am engaged in the process of healing and am not chasing a cure. My appreciation for the things I DO have in my life is no longer limited. This brings me happiness.

And again

I am an imperfect human. I can go back to feeling victimized, angry and resentful. This does happen sometimes. My job is to use the tools I have developed to manage my illness AND my perspective.

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help. If you feel that you need immediate assistance please call your local psychiatric emergency services.