Something I have been thinking a lot about lately is the challenges of having a chronic disease/illness. I have lived with some form of challenging health concerns ever since I was born. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in the allergist office as a young child getting tested for every allergy known to mankind. Shot after shot in each arm, in my back and pricks down both my forearms. This is a searing memory that began to define me: I was different somehow and not many people got that. I remember crying myself to sleep at night, because my tummy hurt so much, and feeling very alone.
I think most people at some point in their life feel alone. That sense of being the only one in the world the way you are, or being so different that no one will understand, or not fitting in, or really that you are physically alone. To be straight to the point, I think it is one of the hardest elements of having a chronic disease. And having 30 years experience with this, I wanted to offer some insights I have learned over the years. They are not a cure for loneliness by any means, but sometimes the hardest thing to do is the easiest.
- Shift your perspective. How many times have you heard yourself say, “I am alone. None understands me. Nobody gets me?” This may in fact be true. But it may also not be true. The other side of this is that you are experiencing an emotion. You feel alone. Think about what specific event triggered that feeling. This brings awareness to the situation. Is there always the same event/person/situation that triggers this sense of being alone?
- Since I’ve mentioned awareness, sometimes feeling alone follows a loss. Were you just given more restrictions because of your illness? Did a relationship end? Are you in a flare and out of your normal routine? We (by which I mean I) love routine. It gives us a sense of calm and being in control. When we lose that, or any part, things shift and we get uncomfortable.
- Call (or text) a friend. This very simple solution has worked wonders for me. As soon as my brain starts to ride the I am alone train, I reach out to someone. Anyone. Human connection is a very real need. It does not matter that you initiated it; it matters that it happened.
- Tell (that friend) what is going on. One of the common characteristics of people with chronic diseases is that we get good at “faking” it or not sharing everything. But sometimes it is ok. If you have had a bad week and just need to vent, say so. Give yourself permission to be real.
- Feeling alone can be a warning sign that your body (and mind) need some self compassion and care. Draw a bath with candles. Have that nap. Cook a nutritious meal. Bake those gooey cookies. Write in a journal. Whatever you have on your list of things that build yo up and take of yourself.
- Distract yourself. And sometimes, the only thing that will work is to distract yourself from what is going on as feeling lonely can be pretty debilitating. Pass some time until the worst of it goes. It is after all a feeling, and will go away.
I think struggling with loneliness is a very real thing for most people who get sick. The truth about it is that most people feel the same way. We just don’t talk about it because inside, we tell ourselves that nobody els could possibly feel he same way, or understand. Just know, that chances are, somebody does understand, and is wondering the same thing.