Dealing with Social Isolation

When you read the words social isolation what is the first thing you think of?  Is it Tom Hanks being stuck on a deserted island and resorting to talking a volleyball to not go nuts?  Is it those poor old people who live by themselves and have no friends or family to ever come see them? According to free dictionary.com – social isolation is the process of separating, or the state of being alone.  So this could be taken in several different ways.  Anyone can suffer from social isolation. 

When you are chronically ill you often suffer from many kinds of isolation. You are feeling isolated from the world because you don’t leave the house often due to not feeling well and for fear of getting sick. You may also feel religious isolation because you can no longer regularly attend church like you once did. And you feel like you are isolated from your church family. Probably the most common type or feeling of isolation is the feeling of isolation from your friends and family. Also known as social isolation. Due to the fact that you no longer feel like doing the things you used to and you often times end up cancelling plans. And once you start cancelling plans much of the time people will stop asking you to do things. Because they just assume you’ll say no. And possibly because they assume you just don’t want to spend time with them when that’s so very far from the truth. 

“Belonging” is a complex social concept, relating to people, places, and things. It is fundamental to our emotional well-being, helps define us, and keeps us connected. Social isolation, on the other hand, is when you distance yourself, physically, psychologically, or both, from your network of needed relationships.When you have a chronic illness, isolation can have unforeseen consequences, including worsening symptoms, unexpected health crises, hospitalization, loss of interest in activities, and decreased levels of energy. Anyone living with a long-term health condition is at risk for social isolation.” Upwell.com

I asked the members of Lupie Groupies (the Facebook support group I am administrator of) about their thoughts and feelings on isolation. Below are what they had to say. 
This fellow spoonie said “The only time I feel the isolation is when I’m feeling better. Otherwise to be honest I’m just to sick to care. If I am lonely or bored it means I’m improving ( which hasn’t happened in awhile).”  Which made me think. She is so right. It’s when I feel better that I start noticing my feelings of isolation because I feel like getting out of the house and doing things. Whereas when I’m sick the last thing I’m thinking about is leaving the house to hang out with friends.”

Kim had this to say “I too generally feel more isolated when I am feeling better. However, these past few weeks have been the High Holy Days for our Faith and I have not been able to participate either because I have been too weak or in the hospital. This is really hard on me as my faith is very important me. I have not been to services in a while because of my fatigue and pain. These issues just aren’t going away either. I also don’t see many people on a regular basis either due to illness except family. When I am doing better this can be upsetting at times. I am an outgoing person with a heart for people. The friends I have do which are few have been my friends for 30 years and we are more family now than anything. They have stuck but others have not because I cannot be there to go out to lunch or just hang out. I cannot say with any certainty that I will available for them. My body doesn’t allow that.”  She touched on many of the types of isolation I talked about up above. And I appreciate her openness and willingness to share. 

Elizabeth had this to say,  “I’ve been fortunate to have a long stretch of time that I was doing very well and was able to do things with a lot of people. Now I’m falling apart again, Benlysta stopped working, I HURT all the time, etc. I’ve had to cancel so many plans that I’ve had for quite some time and any time I allow myself to think about it I start crying. The internet is good for kind of talking with people, but on the other hand it sometimes hurts to look at Facebook and see life going on without you. And they should live their lives, I get that, but when living my life equals sitting around in pain it’s rough. So yes, social isolation for me is the worst right after a feeling great period because I’m having to say no to so many things I enjoy and then watch others have fun without me.”  She makes a great point about the internet. It’s a great tool for finding support groups and friends suffering with similar conditions. And finding people to talk to who share your feelings. However, it can also be a negative experience when you see all the fun things and vacations and such that your friends are doing and you aren’t able to. 

There are ways to combat feelings of social isolation. Upwell.com have five things that can be done to combat those feelings. They are listed below. 

Five ways to keep social isolation from taking over your life

1. Do your research. People often struggle with what they don’t know. Invest time in learning about your illness, symptoms, and treatment options so you do not fall prey to the emotional difficulties of illness, including the desire to be alone. By being proactive, you can understand triggers and keep isolation from taking over your life.

2. Participate in e-social activities. We are blessed to live in an age where social networks make it easy to reach out to others. These are especially helpful when illness and pain prevent us from leaving our homes. Many different e-social activities, including email and instant messaging, give you an opportunity to stay connected daily. It does not matter whether you are reaching out to friends, family, or online acquaintances; the important thing is that you are connecting and not struggling alone. 

3. Join a real life support group. Real life support groups are a great place for the chronically ill and isolated. They are a resource for information and emotional support, and they offer an opportunity to vent to people who understand. They are also an excuse to get out in the world. To find a local support group, Google a national organization for your condition, and then locate links on the page related to support groups or a local chapter. For example, the Arthritis Foundation has a local chapter search where you can find all the resources for your area, including real life support groups. Or, you can try the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ support group page.

4. Take part in the real world. There will be times when you struggle to take part in the real world—whether it is spending time with loved ones or focusing on your career perspectives. Participating in the real world keeps you from becoming isolated. It also keeps you enjoying life, making memories, and feeling positive in a life that isn’t necessarily easy. Let others know you can participate, and join in all the activities you reasonably can handle. Volunteer, join a book club, or meet a friend for coffee or lunch at least once a week.

5. Get comfortable with being alone. While it is important to have a network of people to relate to, there will be times when life requires you to be alone or when you simply want to be alone. Get comfortable being on your own. Learn to lead your own life and make your alone time productive and healthy. You can try meditating, writing, or reading to help you deal with isolation when chronic illness is dominating your life.   

Social isolation can be something that anyone can deal with. But those with chronic illness are more common to deal with these feelings. One of the ways upwell.com gave to help deal with these feelings is to find a support group. Support groups can provide you with information but they can also be a place to find friends and confidants in those who are dealing with similar conditions. If you don’t have a support group but are interested in finding one let me know and I can help you find one. 

Amber 

Reference:

https://www.upwell.com/articles/coping-and-support/manage-social-isolation-with-chronic-illness.html

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