How to Make New Friends as an Adult When You Have a Chronic Illness

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It can be hard to realize you have a shortage of friends in adulthood. You know you’re not an unlikable hermit but so much gets in the way—work, school, family duties, or even the fear of putting yourself out there—that it can be difficult to make and foster friendships.

If you add a chronic illness into the mix, it’s even more challenging. It’s exhausting to look for friends willing to reserve a spot at a wheelchair-accessible restaurant; who respect your need to cancel plans at the last minute so you can rest; or who understand your limitations and are willing to advocate on your behalf, when you barely have energy to take care of yourself. Not to mention, you can “become a new person” after a life-changing diagnosis, says Nicole Pedra, a 36-year-old actor, model, and chronic illness advocate in Los Angeles, California, who found out she had multiple sclerosis (MS) at age 10. Some people can step up and support you, and some won’t—or can’t. “People you were friends with before maybe don’t have the capacity to embrace and be there for you,” Pedra tells SELF. “So it’s like, OK, I need to find some new friends, but how do I do that?”

Just because it’s hard, though, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And it’s worth the effort (and cringy icebreakers) given research that shows friendship can boost overall well-being, protect against depression and anxiety, and improve how you respond to stress. Here are five expert-recommended ways to make new pals if you have a chronic condition.

Find your people.

It can be incredibly isolating to live with a chronic condition. But there are others who know exactly what you’re going through—you just have to find them, Jonathan Mathias Lassiter, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City who specializes in treating people with chronic conditions, tells SELF.

Dr. Lassiter, who was born with sickle cell anemia, found one of his “tribes,” as he calls them, in a Reddit group. It’s a place where people can share advice and bond over having this genetic condition, which can cause extreme fatigue, dizziness, and irregular heartbeat. You can also connect with people via other social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok, Dr. Lassiter says, or through online forums set up by nonprofits. If face-to-face meetings are more your thing, hospitals, clinics, or other treatment centers organize support groups that meet in person, too.

Pedra found her “girl gang” at a charity event called Dunk MS in Los Angeles where she connected with other MS influencers. They call themselves the “Myelin Mavens,” a play on words related to the fact that MS attacks the fatty layer (myelin) that surrounds nerve fibers. Having friends who also have the condition, Pedra says, allows her to be her most authentic self in ways she can’t be with her other friends. “It’s so unbelievable being surrounded by them because I don’t have to explain anything,” Pedra says. “And if anyone needs to cancel plans, everyone’s totally OK because part of being chronically ill is understanding that shit happens.”

Explore new hobbies that support your needs.

One way to find future besties is to pick up new activities, either virtual or in-person. This can not only boost your mood and confidence but also give you something to focus on other than your health, Latisser says. The tricky part is finding a hobby that accommodates any limitations you may have, but if you keep an open mind, you may be able to find some good options

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