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When you live with a chronic medical condition, life can feel lonely. Maintaining relationships in general can be hard. There are times in life, when you just don’t have anything to give, and that can be hard when your friends are constantly giving without ever being on the receiving end. Currently in my late 30s, I have a strong tribe in my life. But this wasn’t always the case, there were times when I had very few friends. While I am no expert, I wanted to share my experience, in case you find it helpful.

I am honest and upfront with my friends about my Crohn’s. They know my limits, and that I would rather be hanging out with them instead of hibernating in my bed. I used to try to hide my Crohn’s Disease, and my ostomy, but that was exhausting, and people, if they are the right kind of people will be interested and supportive of whatever you are going thru. I find that my friends have tons of questions about Crohn’s, the medications I take, and things to do with my ostomy. They ask, I answer.

There’s comfort knowing that you are not alone, and that someone has gone thru similar situations. Girls with Guts did that for me, I stumbled across the website a few years back and then started becoming more involved. I have yet to meet any one in person. When I start to experience something new, I know I can reach out to one of them and see if they have ever experienced anything like it. Most of the time they have!  If you have a chronic medical condition, I urge you to explore the world wide web and find a support group. Most people associate support groups as face to face gatherings, but with all of the different online resources out there it doesn’t always have to be in person.

Even if your current social circle is limited, there may be some past relationships that can be rekindled. Take some time to think back through the friends you used to have. Perhaps these relationships didn’t end on bad terms, but just because you lost touch. Think about reaching out to re-connect. While it’s not always possible to meet up in person, and you don’t want to make plans only to have to be forced to cancel- there are ways text, email, snail mail, video chat.

If you belong to a church, there are often small groups or prayer partners that are just waiting for you to join. Even if you don’t belong to a church, there is a church out there praying for you, and praying that you will walk thru their doors. I understand that church may not be something that everyone is comfortable with, but if you are open to it, know that it’s an option for you.

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Your medical condition doesn’t have to be a common thread in all your friendships. Use other common interests as a foundation to start getting to know new people. Social media is a great spot for this- twitter, facebook, etc. What are your hobbies? Reading, knitting, running, painting, animals? There are so many groups out there, even for the most unusual hobby. I find that when I start searching, there are a few different group to chose from, I look thru what I can see publicly on the page, and I can usually tell by the first few posts if the group is one that I think fits what I am looking for. If it’s not, I just keep looking. The right group will come along eventually.

Don’t keep friends that make you feel badly about yourself. It’s ok to say goodbye to relationships that aren’t working, that leaves room for the ones that do! I know from personal experience, that sometimes our friends aren’t understanding of medical concerns. It’s exhausting trying to convince someone that you aren’t canceling plans with them due to some hidden agenda. Or trying to constantly show them how important they are to you, and how much you value their friendship. Now this, is my opinion but I believe that friendships come and go for a reason, based on the season of our life we are in. The right friend will be understanding and supportive. They won’t make you give them a reason and will understand anyway. The right friend will love you for you.

It’s about the quality of friendships not quantity of friends you have. If I am being honest with you, I have maybe 3 close friends. These are friends I talk to a few times a week-almost daily, and see a few times a month. I have no secrets from these friends, they know everything. I also have a few friends that I don’t talk to, or see as often, but when I do it’s like we just talked yesterday. We pick up right where we left off, and it’s so good for my soul! I can say confidently though, that if I needed anything I could call any of these friends and they would be there for me.

I didn’t always have a tribe, and I didn’t always have relationships that were healthy ones. There were some pretty lonely and frustrating months. And although I didn’t see it at the time, I think that time showed me what characteristics I really needed in friendships. It helped me recognize the negative relationships and kinds of friends I should have been looking for. If you are in this lonely period of time right now, please know that it won’t be that way forever. I hope that some of my advice is helpful to you. Please know, that you’ve got a friend in me.

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Charlotte is a 37 year old ileostomate from Michigan. She is IBD warrior who has been fighting Crohn’s Disease for the past 20 years. She has been married for 14 years, and has two crazy children that keep her busy. She works as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and in her spare time loves baking, singing, reading, and furniture rehab!


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