Chill is for chronically ill people in their 20s and 30s. This has generated a few questions.
I started Chill when I was 28 after spending 18 years house-bound.
I didn’t have any local friends during that time because I hadn’t been able to go out and meet anybody. Almost all of my social interactions took place online.
When I started to go out, I scrambled to find meet up groups to meet up with, but quickly realised I was either too ill to actually get to these groups or too ill to join in with their activities.
After thinking about it for months, I spent a day phoning all the support groups I could find numbers to across Nottingham. I asked if the groups were still going and if I could come. The answer was yes, but they invariably added to be aware that their membership was generally in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
It occurred to me that if I started my own group not only could I meet as close to home as possible, I could aim it at people closer to my age as well.
The intention was never to avoid older people, mind. The intention was to create another option. After 18 years house-bound, I wanted to meet my peers.
Why an age limit?
Being ill is hard at any age, but a significant challenge of being chronically ill in your 20s and 30s is not knowing anyone else who is chronically ill in their 20s and 30s.
I contacted a few self-help charities, looked online, all the usual things. There were groups aimed at 60+ (which makes sense, as statistically there is more chance that over 60s will have chronic health issues compared to under 60s). I went along to the only ‘all ages’ group that I could find and met some lovely people. However, the youngest person there was 40 years older than me.
People come to Chill not just because they want to meet other ill people, but because they want to meet other young people too.
Isn’t illness the same for everybody?
No. Illness affects differently people differently. It can also affect different people differently at different stages of life. The battles and losses are different. Younger adults may lose things that older adults secured in a healthier past, such as friends, education, a career, or children.
I recently I realised that I can’t have children… I went to a group for support and met people my parent’s age who talked a lot about their kids who are my age. Their kids are working, travelling, and starting families. Often the group would reminisce about what they did when they were my age and enjoying the health they had. I need support from people who don’t just understand pain and fatigue, but who also know what it is like when life seems to stop before it starts.
Are you against having friends of different ages?
No. People benefit from having friends of all ages, including friends their own age. Having same-age friends is normal for the healthy, but it isn’t a given when you are young and ill. For instance, I didn’t have any local friends my own age for 18 years. That changed because of Chill.
Isn’t an age limit ageist?
No. We are against ageism. We want to meet some people our own age. This is not ageist.
Feel like I’m going mad when the only people my age I know have careers and holidays and are starting families and I’m doing literally none of it. Can’t work, can’t go on holiday, never went to uni, probs won’t have a family. I have a carer not a career. Makes me feel like a failure. Meeting older ill people was okay but they talked about work and families and I still felt a failure. The only thing that helped was finally finding people my age who really were in the same boat.
Can’t you have older and younger people in your group?
We have several members over 45 (see below), and members can bring a plus one of any age over 18. However, because chronically ill young people are a minority among chronically ill people, we need to be intentional in finding each other. An age limit helps us do this.
It isn’t just support groups that tend to be older. It is social groups in general. I tried the local photography group, art group, philosophy club… I’m almost always the only attendee under retirement age. I can’t do things most people my age do, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want friends my age. The only people my age I know are on Facebook. I wish I could see them in person.
Is there flexibility?
Yes. We have a few older members.
Some of them
- Have been ill from a young age;
- Were invited;
- Were regulars;
- Or are only slightly over the age limit.
Aren’t you denying older people support?
No. Most support groups are geared towards older people.
Imagine that support groups are patches on a quilt. Each patch has a unique purpose, but they all connect to form something bigger.
Some “patches” for ill and disabled people cater solely for
- A single, specific condition;
- Carers only;
- Parents only;
- Teenagers only;
- LGBT people only;
- Healthy disabled people (e.g. Deaf people, amputees, etc);
- Minorities (such as this group for Chinese people dealing with cancer);
- A specific gender, such as groups for men dealing with mental illness;
- And so on.
Most groups exclude to include. Most people fit into multiple categories and so go to multiple groups.
If someone starts a group for, say, autistic Muslims, their group needs to be exclusive to work. If it isn’t, like a vegetarian Halal restaurant selling bacon butties, the original purpose will be lost.
It makes me feel quite sad that people have a negative reaction to the group. Having said that, I totally understand the feeling of unfairness and exclusion- I would imagine most of us feel that on a daily basis! Perhaps a better way to look at Chill is as a group that has guidelines so that younger people don’t feel excluded by the general older swing of other groups available. While I have fun hanging out with teens, and perhaps sharing a few pearls of wisdom, they find huge benefits in having a gathering of their own and I wouldn’t dream of denying them that. The same for parents, or people with the same condition as you: there’s such a relief in finding someone who just ’gets it’.