Even when you have a strong support network, living with a chronic illness can feel isolating at times. As much effort as a family member or friend may put into understanding your chronic illness, routinely explaining the impact that it can have on your day-to-day life gets exhausting. Sometimes, the only people who truly “get” the struggle are other people living with the same health condition. A new app is making it easier for people living with similar health issues or symptoms to connect with each other: Wana is a social platform made by and for people with chronic illness seeking support, friendship, and advice from others in the disability community.
Evan Golub and Nicole Krinick, the co-founders of Wana — which aptly stands for “We Are Not Alone” — tell Bustle their inspiration to create the app was brought about by their own personal health journeys. The co-founders met on Hinge in early 2016, and instantly connected. “While managing our health, we’ve both felt very alone at times,” the cofounders write to Bustle in an email. “We were both extremely lucky to form this friendship. [...] We know it’s not always that easy to find people who understand you, and what you’re going through.”
After being misdiagnosed and not having answers for years, both Golub and Krinick tested positive for Lyme disease — a tick-borne illness that can cause an array of physical, neurological, and mental health symptoms — in 2017. In response, Golub built a sizable IRL support group, called “Lyme Buddies,” for those dealing with the chronic health issue. However, Krinick saw the potential for her and Golub to “build a powerful, accessible and digital platform to help others who were dealing with invisible and chronic conditions.”
Enter Wana. The app, which was founded in 2019, is kind of like if a meet-up app and a chatroom dedicated to people with chronic illness were combined. The signup process simply requires people enter in their first name, a username, and an email address. New users can also add photos, their age, a bio, diagnoses, symptoms, treatments that have worked for them, and their favorite practitioners to their profiles when they sign up, or at a later date. Some of the current diagnoses you can select on the app include endometriosis, depression, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and autism. There are around 100 symptoms to choose from.
After creating a detailed profile, “Wana matches members with similar symptoms and diagnoses (as well as age and location) so they can lean on one another, share stories, and exchange resources,” the co-founders say. Users can either direct message other Wana members, comment on a group thread, or participate on the public feed.
The app is built around the “WanaLibrary,” which allows members to learn more about the various symptoms, health conditions, and medical and holistic treatments — both science-backed and emerging options. The WanaLibrary includes research-based information about these various diagnoses and treatments, as well as links to books, podcasts, and videos that focus on the different topics. Though the app, of course, is not a replacement for consulting a physician, Wana can help users get information to help them gain a deeper understanding of chronic illness. Golub and Krinick have a panel of “Wana Experts” — including a medical advisor, a registered dietitian, an integrative medicine consultant, and herbalists — that contribute to the ongoing development of Wana, and that also participate in conversations on the app.
“For most people, healing is not a straightforward path, and it’s normal to try a number of different approaches before landing on something that works long-term,” the co-founders explain. They add that they hope the WanaLibrary makes it “easier to find evidence-backed information about the wide world of [treatment] options” for people with chronic health issues.
As Wana continues to grow, Golub and Krinick want to expand the social platform by adding more disabilities and chronic illnesses to the app’s database. That way, even more chronically ill people can foster friendships through the app. “Our hope is that, when you open the Wana app, any anxiety, loneliness, or confusion around your diagnosis fades into the background, and you’re able to get the information you need, connect with people who understand you, and discover things you can do to support your healing on your path to wellness,” Golub and Krinick say.
At its core, Wana is about building an inclusive, welcoming, and caring community. Whether directly messaging a friend for support or advice, or posting on the public feed to vent, the app makes it easier to feel seen and heard by others who share your experience. No matter where you are or what time of day it is, you can open up the Wana app, and connect to people that understand the struggles and small wins that often accompany chronic illness.