As many of you I’m sure already know, loneliness and isolation form a very large and intimidating part of this illness. You’re spending so many hours a day in your own head, in bed, wondering when it’s all going to be over, and to be honest, a lot of the time, stringing a sentence together to speak to people is impossible. I remember my family thinking that I was being really rude for not speaking if they asked me a question, when actually it got to the point where I just couldn’t be bothered to start talking, because I knew I’d never be able to finish my sentence. The feeling of not being able to speak cohesively was so uncomfortable for me that I just didn’t talk in an effort to push this feeling away. It was demoralising- I felt pathetic. Ultimately, this side of me was completely removed from the person I was once- the bubbly, enthusiastic, talkative bundle of energy who always had time for everything and loved every minute of it.
So, realising when I was starting to get better that all my friends had lost touch and got on with their lives was harrowing. It was a real universal acknowledgment that I needed to stop wallowing and accept the now. It meant that I had to embrace loneliness in Chronic Illness and accept isolation for a little while, pretty much because I had no choice.
So, why don’t we like being alone?
We need connection as humans, but especially in this illness. We need to know that there’ll be someone there when we holler, someone at arms reach to catch us, to carry us to the bathroom. We need humans as our safety blankets. We need them to tell us that this is all a bit of nightmare and we’ll wake up soon (even though some of our nearest and dearest do this is rather strange ways!) Even if they don’t speak to us, or even if you don’t want them to speak to you, another person’s presence is angelic, warm and reassuring. A validation that other people still exist and lead normal lives while you’re stuck between four walls.
I remember loving weekends during my illness because everyone was at home- even just hearing sounds of people banging around in the kitchen was reassuring and comforting, knowing that I’d have someone to check in on me.
It’s the ultimate sign that someone else still believes in us, even if we don’t. That someone else still holds that flag for you, even if you’ve lost faith in your life. Having our loved ones interfere, nag and fret over us is an outward sign of care, concern and an overall need to make us better, whatever the costs. When we lose all hope in ourselves, we need others to show us the way and remind us of our brilliance.
But, be careful.
Be very careful in your need just to have ‘someone there’ that you don’t bring the wrong people into your circle, those who rob you of your energy, make you worry and stress even more and who ultimately have no faith in you. This can be hard when it’s your family or people you’ve known for a while, but you have to know that ultimately, their concern comes out of anger, frustration and misunderstandings towards your illness, just as yours does when you question yourself. If someone is really zapping your energy, talk to them about it, about how their words make you feel.
Getting comfortable with being on your own.
I’ve spent so much time on my own as a result of this illness that I’m, as sad as this might sound, my own best friend. What I mean by this is that, even though I now have a fantastic network of friends that I meet with very regularly, I’m very comfortable being on my own and I know myself and my own mind really, really well. I honestly believe that this ability to be on my own and enjoy my own company has carried me through and has kept me strong when I lost all hope during my healing. I listened to my inner voice and it carried me through. You lose the ability to do this when you are around other people, trying to please them, listen to them and fight back with wordless arguments. Fighting loneliness now, however deep and scary that bottomless well is, will mean you’ll be stronger for it later, more independent and more joyful in your future life. Ultimately, you’ll come out of the illness fighting, without a need to cling to others or stay small- being comfortable and confident in your own company will let you do that. If you still feel the need to desperately cling to others and to be around people constantly, know that loneliness, little by little, will make you stronger. It’s only in this space that you can grow into your true ‘you’.
I often think that that’s what this illness is here to show us- that there is strength is following our gut instincts, in listening to your inner guidance and in leading your own life.
So, how can you enjoy time on your own?
- Try one of these now.
- Meditate. Meditate like there’s no tomorrow without the fear that someone’ll walk in and brand you a big hippie.
- If you can, write your thoughts down in a journal. Feel the power of just you, pen and paper and the universe.
- Read and listen to audiobooks like there’s no tomorrow. Lose yourself in the company of someone else through words. You’ll learn so much about yourself, and for goodness sake, don’t feel guilty. You won’t have this time again and you’ll be glad you had this time for growth and understanding when you’re recovered and running around like a mad thing again.
You are allowed to feel lonely- don’t push it away. You are allowed to feel that nasty, metallic, hollow feeling and really get into it. There is no shame in this. You are allowed to enjoy the company of others and at times it’s essential, but if you have to be on your own, flick into that self-exploration mode and go there. It’s scary and you might no like what you find, but ultimately, that’s your way through.
Love and strength,