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HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WHEN SUFFERING FROM A MENTAL OR CHRONIC ILLNESS

One vina shares her coping mechanisms and ways to make friends while going through it

“We are all a little broken. But last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same.” – Trent Shelton.

As someone who was diagnosed with several mental and chronic illnesses, I have felt myself to be alone, and I am alone still. I have spent most of my life hinting at things, foreshadowing that I was struggling to make friends because of my illnesses. Loneliness comes from the inability to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding views which others seem to find inadmissible.

I voyaged my way into forming friendships that felt right to me. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to form healthy friendships throughout the years, despite my health issues. Below are the steps I followed to form long-lasting friendships. 

ACCEPT WHO YOU ARE

Whether you are introverted or extroverted, learn to accept your personality despite what you are going through. You may get caught up with your health, especially after your diagnosis, and that may make you neglect who you are or how you interact with people.

It is normal for someone who has recently been diagnosed with an illness to lose friends. You must understand that people deal with different challenges on a daily basis. Friends may not entirely comprehend what you are going through, affecting your self-esteem and causing you to critique yourself. Please don’t listen to that voice — the inner critic — in your head that says you aren’t good enough. You are here alive today because you have a purpose. Your diagnosis is just part of who you are, and it isn’t entirely you. Think of yourself as a gemstone; they are imperfect, but they absorb light and radiate color spectrums. Try to turn tragedy into a magical mystery. It isn’t easy but it is worth a try.

ACCEPT YOUR DIAGNOSIS

Before a person can accept a diagnosis, they initially may need to grieve. You must allow yourself to feel pain and disappointment about your life not being the same anymore. Cry and try to talk about it to the ones closest to you. Understand that some of these people may dismiss you or your feelings about your situation, but that doesn’t necessarily define the path your life is taking. Accept that, when you have to come into terms with your diagnosis, you will inevitably be vulnerable. People may say or insinuate things about you that aren’t true — try to trust your intuition about this.

CONSIDER ADOPTING A PET

Pets are noble companions. It may be a good idea to consider adopting a pet, especially if you have been struggling to form friendships with people. They are loyal, and you can always count on them during the good and bad times.

CONTRIBUTE IN SOCIETY + PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE

This is a time for you to consider volunteering in your community! This may expose you to different people and working environments outside of your comfort zone. Volunteering helped me meet different people and people with similar health issues and make new friends.

Volunteer work is not only done to improve your resume; you will learn skills that not only become vital in the workplace, but are also necessary for life. Exploring new places makes you become more self-aware about your surroundings and yourself. Your health issues are a part of your life, however, as previously stated, your health issues do not completely define who you are. 

JOIN MENTAL AND CHRONIC ILLNESS SUPPORT GROUPS

One of the hardest things that I had to deal with after being diagnosed with an illness was educating myself and understanding the emotional aspects of having to deal with such an ordeal. Joining mental and chronic illness support groups either online or in your community can help you process and grieve over your diagnosis. Support groups have always been my safe haven for asking all sorts of questions regarding the illnesses I have been diagnosed with. There are admins and moderators in certain online support groups to help control and manage the group and the tone in which people use to communicate with each other.

Unfortunately, trolls can be found anywhere online these days, but luckily most online support groups, especially Facebook support groups, are private. This means that whatever you decide to post in those groups is only seen by people who are within the group. 

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

If you have issues forming meaningful relationships or friendships, it may be difficult to express your feelings with people without feeling judged. Chances are, you might not be the only one who has had that issue. If you feel lonely and want to speak to someone, you could kindly request people to speak to you in private, which may easily help you make online friends. The same applies to support groups in your area. The only difference is, you get to meet with people on a weekly basis and discuss issues you might be facing.

Trust me, this acts as a form of talk therapy, and getting resources from such platforms helped me expand my knowledge about my illnesses. Most importantly, you’ll get to learn that you are not alone in your suffering. Feeling a sense of community is quite important. In fact, I consider it to be a basic human need.

It is imperative that a vina always remembers to take care of herself, especially when she is ill. If things feel wrong, learn to not pursue them. Learn to listen to your body and your intuition. If your body needs rest, then allow yourself to rest. Trust your own process and your body because nobody is you and that is your power. Articulate yourself in a respectful manner, and learn not to drown in other people’s opinions. Do not be a people-pleaser; learn to please yourself, because you come first. Never speak poorly about yourself, and do not listen to your inner critic, for it is your worst enemy.

Be more self-aware and kind to yourself. Let go of things you have no control over, and let your life unfold into the beauty and terror, and all that comes in between. Always learn from bad experiences, trust yourself, and most importantly, believe in yourself.  Love all the people in your life, and know when to walk away if a relationship fails. Some people will be toxic and narcissistic, others will love you for who you truly are. Unfortunately, meeting new people isn’t easy but if you know your own worth, no one can ever make you doubt yourself. Never lower your standards just so you can have people in your life. This is the hardest lesson I had to learn when I was forming new relationships. 

PEOPLE SKILLS: CONQUER YOUR FEARS

Start new conversations wherever you are. You would be amazed at how small talk or simple conversations with strangers can easily turn into intellectually-stimulating conversations. Approach life as a learning curve because there is not one specific way that people can go about meeting each other. I met all my friends in different ways. Some of my friends were my classmates in college, others were some that I met randomly by politely speaking to them in restaurants or other public places. Most of them I met in bookstores, because I love reading, and I very well consider myself a book lover.

You are still the same person before your diagnosis. Nothing has changed much about you, you just managed to get help from health professionals and that is what a diagnosis represents. It doesn’t symbolize your hopes and dreams, nor does it represent your personality. Go out there and learn more about this world and find people that make you happy.

SUICIDE IS NOT AN OPTION

There was a point in my life where I got so many diagnoses that I was self-harming and I eventually contemplated suicide. I had no friends about me, I was devastatingly lonely. I couldn’t articulate myself well, my speech was always hazy and my shoulders were constantly dropping. I not only considered my body as a burden, but I felt like a heavy burden to my own parents because of all the medical bills and my failure to form noble companionships with people. I didn’t know that this was far from the truth back then.

My acts of self-harm were an expression of my pain. I tried to use my own body as a container for my own rage because of my health issues. I felt lonely, and I sometimes do still feel lonely. What I failed to do was talk to someone that could hear me out. I failed to recognize that ruminating about death was simply me internally screaming for help and wanting the pain to end.

I wanted to live, I loved life, but I hated the responsibility that was posed upon me by my health issues. My health issues made it so difficult for me to function in society. I was constantly on the phone calling a counselor on a suicidal line, in the hopes of getting help. I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to meet people but I had no idea about how I should start meeting people.

My parents talked me out of it, and so did the counselors I spoke to on the phone. If you are in any way suicidal, remember that you are worth it. Find a safe haven or someone who can help you. The inner critic is just playing mind games with you; find people who can talk you out of it. You will get through this and you will have friends one day. 

If you are having these internal thoughts and are thinking of harming yourself, put your safety first and reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

TRY ONLINE WEBSITES AND APPS

If you have issues meeting new people in your area, or if you’ve been too ill to go out, it would be a wonderful idea to consider using online websites or apps like Hey! VINA to meet new people. When I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), I was constantly in a psychiatric ward and that resulted in me losing a lot of friends and struggling to form friendships. I used the Hey! VINA app to meet new women where I lived, and, using my gut instincts, I made new friends and overcame some of my social anxiety. Go ahead and try it!

Sending love, light, joy, and blessings your way. Let us rebuild a healthy state of mind together by connecting on Hey! VINA. There, you are never alone in your mental health journey.

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