Chronically ill and struggling to socialize |
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Chronically ill and struggling to socialize

Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

I am chronically ill but work full time and am literally able to do little else other than work and take care of my home. Socializing is exhausting for me, doing it out of the house more so, and even when it is wholly limited to weekends, too much means I can’t go to work on Monday.

I’ve lost nearly all of my friends due to this — even a woman whose wedding I was in just under two years ago now rarely calls. How does one remain social when people don’t really want to be friends with someone who is ill and often housebound?

— Can’t Socialize

I’m sorry you’re in this position, and your friends haven’t been willing to accommodate you more.

Or maybe they are but you haven’t asked for that explicitly? It happens often, that we think we’ve been clear on what we need but haven’t, and so people who would help us out don’t even know we want that from them, much less in what form.

So that’s my first suggestion — talk to your friends, with clear ideas handy. Follow up by inviting them to things you can do, when you can do them. “Come over Saturday, I’ll order takeout, I’ll just need help cleaning up.” It’s cosmically unfair that the person with the illness would have to take on extra work to get others to socialize, but I think the reality is, people just default to the nearest and easiest thing. Especially people who are busy or stressed with their own stuff.

So, anyone who doesn’t fall in the nearest/easiest part of the Venn diagram often has to figure out what works in their circle and then make the effort — on some manageably regular basis — to invite people into it.

If you’ve tried all of this already to no avail, then Suggestion 2 is to try to reallocate some of your limited energy to reflect friendship as a priority. Work is probably a fixed commitment, but what about “take care of my home”? Can that be a place to cut back? If not immediately, then long-term, with a lower-maintenance setup?

Work is work, but quality of life deserves a spot at the top.

For: Can’t Socialize:

When I was struck with chronic migraines, I could barely keep going to work. Almost all my friends dropped away. But here’s what worked: a Bible study that met at my home once a month. The group did everything: brought the dessert, assigned and prepped the readings, cleaned up after themselves. On bad days, I didn’t even listen in. But at least I had something to look forward to. And the people in the group had the opportunity to check in on me, maybe volunteer to bring a meal or run an errand.

Another thing that worked: asking friends to come for short visits where, again, they hosted themselves — changed the sheets, made the dinners, planned activities and didn’t get upset if I couldn’t join in. Friends really want to help — just be really clear about how.

— Bad Days

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at

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