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Asking for a Friend - Making New Connections as a Chronic Disease Patient

Last updated: January 2023

Who is ready for some math? I know, I know, you told yourself that there is no way you needed that Algebra II after the final that you passed in 2006. I’m just going to tell you that I’ve lived in six different states during my adulthood, and it’s because I’ve done the moving; no employer has enticed me with a sweet deal and dollar signs. There have been times when I have moved to cities that I haven’t known even one person and I had no idea what was in store.

Let me tell you, it’s hard making friends as an adult. YouGov.com did a little study and the results were that 27% of Millennials have no close friends, and 22% have no friends at all. I happen to be GenX, and we appeared in the study at 15% of us having no close friends. What makes it even more difficult hanging onto those friends is being an adult with a chronic health condition such as hidradenitis suppurativa.1

Challenges of living with hidradenitis suppurativa

What are some of our challenges with HS? First, we aren’t the most reliable about our plans. It’s not our fault! Sometimes we’re in crazy pain, right? Or we’re just plain wiped out. Our bodies are constantly in the process of erupting and repairing, and it feels like we were hit by a steamroller. When you are meeting new people, it’s okay to subtly say, “Hey, just so you know, I deal with a crazy disease that really drains me and sometimes I cancel. But that doesn’t mean I want to say ‘no’ all of the time! Please keep inviting me, and I will keep inviting you!”

Second, sometimes we deal with actual physical limitations. It might be a matter of clothing cover-up, or it might be trying to mask certain odors from the bacteria. It really depends on your level of comfort, but if someone is curious about why you have certain habits or needs, you choose how much you want to reveal, and how quickly. Friendships with new people are tricky. Trust is a big deal. You never know – you may meet someone else who has HS, or who knows someone who knows someone. And this is just a recommendation, but the earlier you start an acquaintance on setting boundaries, the better. If you happen to connect with a Nosy Nancy, make sure you specify that you know your body well and have conversations with your healthcare providers. Let that person know gently but firmly that you don’t take advice because your disease is complicated and specific to you. (This is always better than a meltdown later.)

On to the fun stuff!

How can we meet more people?

The pandemic that began in 2020 really shook up a lot of people! I personally became relegated to my bed (mostly) in 2015 after an extended illness, and so I was a little more prepared than a fair number of folks. Nonetheless, I still experienced my friendship circle disappearing for a number of reasons. Economics, depression, relocation, and divorce all played a part in disrupting all of my current and former friends’ lives, and I found myself saying, “Where is everyone?” Then I thought, “I’d really like to get some new people.” But how?

Check out activities in your area

So the first thing I thought of was this massive activity group I joined in 2005. Actually, it’s adjacent to this group that I joined, but is now defunct. The one that is still rolling was kind of the rival group. If you are looking for just about anything to do with like-minded people scheduled at a specific time, I suggest trying Meetup.com. The pros are that you can see everyone who is signed up beforehand, and usually there are clear instructions and you can ask questions before you go. There are many, many, many events, both in person and online.

The downside that I struggle with is that at least with my city, a lot of the activities end up having some sort of fee charged. Sometimes it’s some amount paid to the person organizing or presenting, or maybe it’s a fee paid to the facility where we are going to participate, but sometimes I just want a free concert in the park, know what I mean? When I belonged to the rival group starting in 2005, we did have free events. I also went to a great variety and hosted a few of my own, including an Ethiopian dinner night, and a photography session at dawn (5 a.m.) in the downtown area of my city. I am still friends – best friends – with some of the people I met through that group. So check it out and see if any activities appeal to you.

Friendship dating

The second thing I briefly tried is friendship dating. I have to give a disclaimer and say that I actually did internet dating off and on from 1999 (yes, all the way back then, when we only had dial-up and chat rooms), until about three years ago. When I completely stopped doing internet dating, I decided I had enough. Here comes that math again – 20 years! I figure I gave internet dating a fair shot. But I hadn’t tried using apps to find friends. There are so many recommendations out there, and I have tinkered around with a few.

My take? Some use Nextdoor to find people nearby, but I can tell you from my experience that you don’t always find the people who necessarily share your same interests just because they share your zip code, so be cautious. I have heard of people using Bumble BFF with some success. I did briefly try using one app, but only had it for about 4 hours and then dumped it because it all seemed to be pregnant ladies in their mid-20’s (and I’m about twice that and not pregnant). I wouldn’t have signed on if that’s what they advertised clearly, I need people in my demographic. I’m still up in the air about this, but others may find it helpful if they only want to use electronics.

Take a class

My third suggestion is, take a class! It doesn’t have to be anything big. Did you want to learn something from the experts at Home Depot? Would you like to finally paint your own pottery? How about showing off your programming skills to your grandkids? The more often you show up for the same instructor and the same class members attend, the more likely you are to make deeper connections.

If you think you are up for the commitment, sign up for a series, or even think about taking something at a community college. Evening classes are more likely to have “non-traditional” students who have returned to school after being in the workforce for a decade or two. Put yourself in the best position to find your people, if you are able to pull it off!

Join a team

Fourth: Join a team! How do you feel about bowling? Or maybe Dungeons and Dragons is more your style? (I happen to know that my local used bookstore has finally gotten weekly games back up and running again.) City social calendars are a wealth of information if you want to hunt these sorts of things down, as are newspapers – if you still have one in your city or town, on their website.

Join a group

My fifth idea is to join a group. Not just any old group, but a group with purpose. For instance, I sing every day. I don’t even know why I didn’t think about this, but I have been really, really missing singing with others. My friend belongs to a choir. In fact, she was directing a show choir for some years, and she was performing in a quartet too.

It recently hit me: I should join a choir! So, I found a choir! Auditions aren’t required, and everyone joins for the love of singing. The director is still very enthusiastic and professional, so we won’t just be singing willy-nilly. What kind of group would you join? A knitting group? A doggie play group? A book group?

Get a job

The sixth suggestion is to get a job. Now, I know, everyone groan in unison – don’t we work enough? I used to work two jobs, and sometimes three, because my medical bills since I hit adulthood in the early ‘90’s have been outrageous. I decided long ago that if I had to work a second job, I would make it fun. As it turns out, I have friends from my second jobs as well that have become friends for life.

My part-time jobs include working for arts organizations and a women’s clothing store. The landscape for part-time jobs has changed, but it may be that you find one that introduces you to a lot of people, and you can pick and choose who you want to let into your life.

Volunteer

The seventh and final suggestion is to volunteer – or as a friend put it, work for free. Yes, you! Get out there and make this world a better place! And when your heart is smiling, other people will notice and want to be around you. Sometimes volunteering is once a year. But it can also mean once a week, or even once a day. Be realistic about your expectations as well as the organization that you choose, and be prepared to like it – or even love it!

I’ve done so many volunteering events, such as registration for the Tough Mudder races, “bedside hugger” for a children’s hospital every week, and assistant for MADD for two years. Maybe you want to work with plants, animals or children? There’s organizations for each of those! Maybe adults are more your speed? Hey, the world has lots of those too!

I hope that this list has sparked some ideas for you to put one foot in front of the other in trying to add to your circle of friends. Remember to use caution when introducing new people in to your life, the same as you would with any stranger.

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