A little solitude can be a wonderful thing. It allows us to rejuvenate and pamper ourselves … dream … even take a snooze. If you’ve ever taken a quick escape to a garden bench … a porch swing … a hammock … a lake house, etc., then you know what I mean. It’s nirvana.
Unfortunately not all loneliness is planned, welcomed, or even short-term. Call me melodramatic, if you must. But there is a loneliness that can come ever so easily, when you live with a Chronic illness. It slips over you — like a fog rolling in. And it’s unlike any loneliness that most have ever experienced. Why? Because it isn’t sought, or expected. It just seems to hit you, with the speed of a sucker-punch. In part, I think it comes from the lifestyle changes that the disease creates. How family and friends react to your diagnosis can also be a factor. How you accept your condition, its restrictions, etc., can be another. Everyone’s life seems to move on. And yours seems to hold you back. At its worst, this can lead to Social Isolation. And somewhere in the midst of it all, you’ll probably find Depression.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” — 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)
Most of us are familiar with loneliness, because we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. Many times, by choice. But this isn’t that. Social Isolation, by medical definition, is “A state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships”. It is often associated with Seniors, especially those who live alone. But it isn’t confined to that age group. Depression, by medical definition, is “An illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and that affects the way a person eats, sleeps, feels about himself or herself, and thinks about things.” Like Social Isolation, Depression can occur at any age.
When a person is diagnosed with a Chronic illness, a second condition sometimes presents itself. Many patients have multiple Chronic illnesses. Juggling these conditions, symptoms, medications, etc., can lead to emotional and mental health issues. Social Isolation can be a facet of Chronic illness. Depression can, too. And loneliness plays a role in both. In fact, loneliness can be as bad for patients as the Chronic illness that they are living with, i.e. COPD, Epilepsy, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes, etc. This is why a good support system is so vital for every patient. Some will find that social media is helpful, in filling the void. Others will tell you that it is even more depressing. Studies have actually made the same conclusions — helpful to some, harmful to others. So, what should we do?
If you have been diagnosed with a Chronic illness, you know how your life has changed. Still, living each day to the fullest should remain a priority. It’s important for you to stay socially engaged. How you do so may change, but participation is key. Your support system can help with that. Faith can also be comforting and empowering. Sometimes, just a little conversation on the porch is a godsend. How about a walk? A movie? Maybe, a pot-luck supper with friends? Or a phone call? And if your illness has impacted the clubs, sports, etc., that you once actively enjoyed … don’t allow it to get you down. Millions can relate to what you are going through. They too have made adjustments. So, please look for new options. I assure you, these alternatives do exist.
Chronic illness, as odd as it may sound, can actually open the doors to many positive experiences. But you must be willing to try them. If you need ideas, talk to your doctor. Go online. Many community groups and churches offer options, too. Explore a few. Instead of pulling away from life, be willing to do something new. Get involved. Connect with others. Make some new friends, along the way. It’s healthy. It’s fun. It’s an awakening, of sorts. A chance to find new talents and satisfaction. Your garden, or life, doesn’t have to be desolate. It can be a place of wondrous discovery, despite your health condition. No illness, or age, should be allowed to define you or me. Nor should it be allowed to rob us of fulfillment and happiness!
* Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash