Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Loneliness of Chronic Disease

One of the side effects of a chronic condition, often not discussed at medical appointments, is the loneliness that many experience. Treatment regiments, physical changes, restrictions in daily activities, pain, aches etc. all contribute to feelings of being isolated and alone. People also isolate because they don’t: want to be a burden; feel like they fit in; or that others will understand. Shame can also be a factor, and yes, people do stop calling or inviting you to participate in social events because of your condition. Even when you are surrounded by people that love you, they aren’t sharing your experience so feelings of aloneness can persist.

Not surprising research shows that loneliness is significantly related to total number of chronic illnesses and lower quality of life and by itself can also increase risks of becoming sicker and reducing immune function. Am. J Nurs.

It’s important to recognize the distinction between being alone versus being lonely. For some, being alone with their medical illness provides an opportunity for reflection and self-assessment while they experience connection through a spiritual practice, religion or an artistic pursuit. They may find that their alone activities support them in finding direction, meaning and control. This post is for those who are experiencing loneliness and want to change it.

Things to consider
• Your medical condition does not define you.

• You can’t change how other people think, but you change who you spend time with.  There are many different condition and other types of support groups on-line and in person you can participate in. For meetings in your area, ask about them where you receive your care. Often bulletin boards at your provider’s office will contain information, but if you don’t readily see something ask, and/or contact the local chapter of a condition specific organizations (e.g. Diabetes Association). Check out Finding Support on-line.

• Find activities that engage you and bring you joy. This can be a walk in the park, meditating, going to church or doing one of the many “takes a breaks” that are posted every Wednesday on this blog as well as to Pinterest.   T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, wrote, “The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”  

• Engage in groups doing activities that you enjoy. If you like to hike, joining a hiking club will help you meet others with similar interests. Meet Up  is a good resource to learn what’s happening in your community.

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