“I’m sorry. I can’t go…”
Does that sound familiar? In the community of people with chronic illness, these are words we utter far more than we would like. The problem is that when you have friends that you’ve had for decades and suddenly you are a person that has to be less active than you used to be, friends and family may not understand. What you and I may have to come to grips with, is the fact that the more able-bodied may not understand. We not only have these struggles we need those around us to understand at least somewhat, and we need to own the fact that we can’t do these things. It may be permanent. And it may take time for you and the people that know you to adjust to who you are and what you can do now.
This is not to say that you don’t have any friends, but if you’re like me you hardly ever have in-person access to your closest friends.
My ailments all have anxiety and depression as a common component in our illness. On the Arthritis Foundation website they highlight the complications that living with depression can cause:
Rates of depression and anxiety in people with arthritis-related diseases varies depending on the population, the size of the study, and the measurement tools used. But data show that the rates can be between two- and ten-times greater than the rates of the general population, depending on the type of arthritis.
Studies show that anxiety and depression can lower your pain threshold. And then the chronic pain aggravates your anxiety and depression. Furthermore, people with arthritis and depression tend to have more functional limitations, are less likely to adhere to their treatment regimens, and have increased odds of developing other health problems.
You can find yourself in a never-ending loop of pain, poor health, and negative mood. This vicious cycle can significantly change the course and management of your arthritis.
Contributing Factors to Your Isolation
Your friends don’t have time for you.Forthose that knew you before your illness, they may not know how to work you into their more active lifestyle. And for many of them, they likely have a larger set of friends. They may not even realize that you have no one close by. If you are also like me, you may not have the ability to drive. (I had undiagnosed anxiety and sensory processing issues long before Rheumatoid Arthritis and my other brain-fog-producing illnesses. Now add hand grip and joint pain issues, and it has to be relying on family, friends, Lyft, and whatever public transport I can utilize.)
You can’t be around people when you have a compromised immune system.Some of your friends may not understand how serious your illness is. When they hang around you with a “cold” or “just a cough” that may spell disaster for you. Especially if they are wanting you to do something active as well. Landing in the hospital because you hung out with a moderately sick friend that made you really sick would put a damper on any relationship. Better to stay away and preserve your health.
Fatigue.While sometimes you can push yourself slightly and dig to the bottom for the last crumb of energy.
Lack of Funds.Like me, you may have lost your entire career path. I am blessed enough to have parents who want to take care of me, but it we barely know what will happen month-to-month. So guess what? That puts me squarely out of the ability to do any travel. Especially until I can completely change my career path so that I can have a job that can be adapted to my waxing and waning fatigue and mental sharpness.
Inability to Travel.Ifyou have friends that control travel plans, they might try to run any trips that you plan. Don’t let them. Travel is very different than it used to be when you have a chronic illness. Realize your limitations and make sure you don’t overbook yourself. Out of the great need to be around friends, don’t let them strain your health or pocket book just to fit in. You are always a better friend if you can practice self-care.
What might help my situation?
I know that some may pressure us into doing things we aren’t up to doing. If you have always been more of an introvert, while you feel loneliness and isolation it might not be a new thing at all. And frankly, why are we pressuring ourselves to be social or anything else? Realize that while your friends think they know you, and you think you know yourself, feeling guilty about having to be away from your friends isn’t helping your situation.
I believe acceptance is a key. Media manufactures ideals that nobody can live up to. Even when it comes to stories of triumph from others with similar illnesses and issues who have overcome great things and become miracle people. If each and every person set that as the norm or the standard it wouldn’t be a miracle would it?
Find a tribe online. No, it’s not as good as having people in your life, face-to-face. I absolutely miss having people who would be willing to come help me in my time of need to help clean, sort, pack, lift things, host a yard sale, fix my computer. But at least having at least one support group that you join online, it can help you feel less alone in your struggles. It helps to have people to bounce ideas off of, commiserate with, who understand what you are dealing with daily.
Try not to feel guilty about your illness. Feelings of guilt and anxiety and feeling like a failure are likely tied to our illness. Just because a preacher tells you that you need to just believe harder and God will grant you miraculous healing, that’s not how life works. Just because more able-bodied people believe you should just muscle through doesn’t mean you should. All of these feeling likely mean you should think about seeing a therapist.
I know how hard it is to seek help. Especially when you are under too much stress and anxiety and depression are flattening you. I know because I haven’t been able to fit this in to seek help to fix it. In fact, the realization the other day I had about myself is that I had more symptoms of anxiety and depression than I thought, and that I had no time to do anything about it right now.
In the meantime, bond with your support groups. It will help you keep your head above water until you can see your friends in real life and be able to seek professional help.