Right now we are facing a time where everyone is more isolated. Those who are healthy are beginning to get a glimpse of the isolation many of us living with chronic illness have lived with for years. And, those who are chronically ill are even more isolated than normal as they seek to protect themselves and reduce the risks that come with interaction.
In a situation where we are forced to physically isolate ourselves, it becomes even more apparent just how important friendships and connection really are, and how important it so keep those relationships intact even when you can’t connect physically.For those living with chronic illness, isolation is nothing new, but that doesn't mean we aren't struggling. Maintaining friendship is all the more important during times of isolation.
Living with chronic illness, we often tend to pull away from those around us, we isolate. We do this for both good and bad reasons. For good reasons, to allow ourselves to rest and recover from pain and illness. But, also for not so good reasons – because we feel we are not good company, that we are better off alone, that we bring others down and they don’t want to be around us.
I have found myself in this situation many times. Looking back at the last decade and looking at my current situation, however, I have a slightly different view of things. What I’ve realized is that when I’ve isolated myself from others throughout the course of my illness, I did so for good reason. Those feelings that I was protecting them, were more a need to protect myself. Feelings that I wasn’t good company, often were in reality feelings that they weren’t good company for me in that moment.
I was choosing to limit my exposure to negative people without really understanding that was what I was doing. At the time, I just thought it was me.
I’d often encourage my ex to go out and spend time away from the house. At the time I justified it as protecting him from having to endure my negativity. But, looking back I realize I was protecting myself because of the way that he generally responded to me and my illness.
Getting divorced, and finally realizing that the person I spent most of my time with was not someone that I felt good being around, changing my perception greatly. What changed it even more was finding someone who I did feel good around. Someone who I never felt like I needed to “protect”, someone I never felt held my illness against me.
Through the few weeks of social distancing that we’ve endured so far, I’ve had the thought too many times that I’m glad this is happening with him and not several years ago with my ex.
The thing is that we need people. We need to connect with people. But, we need to make sure that those we are allowing in our circle, those we are allowing to take some of our limited energy are those who are not stealing that energy.
That is still true now. But, even as we seek to protect our energy, we do need to remember just how important friendships and connection really are. For many of us with chronic illness (especially those who are introverts with chronic illness) life has not changed much in the last few weeks. But, for many others it has changed drastically. We need to keep this in mind and do our best to reach out to those we care about. Just as we’ve needed them for so long, they need us now.
Our experiences living with chronic illness can help those who are struggling right now.
We need to have empathy to those who are really struggling with this isolation. Those who are hurting among us. Even if it’s just a text to check in and let them know that you are thinking about them, that they are not alone. A few minutes on a phone call could mean the world to a friend right now who hasn’t had human contact in a while.
Spending time with good friends makes a huge difference in how we feel. We need that time with friends to recharge, to feel better mentally and emotionally. We all need that feeling of connection. You don’t have to give up your energy to help others through this tough time.
Social media gives us some of that, and allows us to make friends with people we will never meet in person. But, there is something different about one on one social time with real friends, even if it’s just a phone or video call. It provides us with a connection to the world (and to ourselves) that we can’t get in any other way.
A few ways you can maintain your friendships during isolation
- Send a text (it takes 30 seconds to send a short text and let someone know you are thinking of them)
- Do a video chat (there are so many ways to do this now. Even if you don’t have Facetime, you can use Facebook messenger, Google Hangouts, or even Zoom)
- Call them (you can still use phones to talk to people… novel concept, I know)
- Send an email
- Send a message through Alexa (if you both have an Alexa you can send a message to them directly through Alexa)
- Play online video games together (many online video games have built in voice or text chat options, allowing you to virtually hang out)
The reality is that for most of us with chronic illness this is how we maintained our friendships before. But, as more and more people are being isolated, it’s all the more important to reach out to others, especially those who typically are able to get out and live life .
How have you been handling this social isolation? Is it another day for you? Have you found yourself reaching out more, or being reached out to more?
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