The Hidden Cost of My Social Outings With Chronic Illness
Before I became unwell I couldn’t stand to be alone. I thrived off social interactions. I was constantly found at church, university, work, and parties. Friends, people, family were my life. That energizing, life-giving rush of connecting with another human being of laughing, smiling, joking around. That endless ability to go out, and keep going. Picking up random conversations with strangers on public transport, the shops and park. The ease to which I could connect with others and the fluidity to which conversation flowed.
When I became chronically sick, two things changed.
1. I became physically isolated. I could no longer go out. I had to stop university. Stop work. Stop going out in the evenings. Stop even going out for coffee. Stop going to church, and friend’s parties. In the beginning, this hurt so much. I felt like a terrible friend, employee and student. I tried desperately to push against the limitations of my body and to go anyway. This, however, resulted in public displays of collapsing, falling unconscious and rapid trips to the ER. The situations to which I had the opportunity to interact with others became increasingly limited as I accepted the new limitations my body was imposing.
2. Over time, I became internally isolated. The symptoms I was experiencing from nausea, dizziness, chest pain, muscle tightness, brain fog and stupidly high tachycardia made it extremely difficult for me to express myself and connect with others. It was as though I had suddenly fallen into this dark black hole, that try as I might- I couldn’t crawl myself out of. When I did make it out of the safety of my home- my smiles, chatter and laughter were replaced by blank stares. I was using all the energy I had to stay sitting on the chair. I didn’t feel like myself at all & probably from the outside I looked depressed and disinterested.
My once loved social interactions became a task to survive, to stand clinging to the furniture around to stop me falling over. This struggle to nod in the right places and intense concentration to try and take in something of what the other person was saying.
I began stumbling out polite answers when others asked how I was. I didn’t have the strength to match their smiles and energy, or the brain power to compute their questions – let alone think up my own to ask.
I no longer felt like the person who I once was. The one who loves people, caring deeply about all aspects of their lives – that part of me felt like it was drowning inside a body which would not function. A hour of “participating” in the healthy world would bring me home to my knees in hours of tears and unbearable pain…The hidden cost of my social outing.
Even conversations with my boyfriend, family and close friends were immensely difficult. I hated that I couldn’t connect with them, communicate and love as I so longed to. My life was suddenly was so different from theirs. I felt like an outsider to the healthy world, watching frozen at the sidelines, distant from the energy and happenings of my once held normality.
Over recent weeks however, amidst the darkness of this storm, I have noticed such beauty in the unspoken. The holding of a hand, and embracing of a hug. The way the sun shines through the trees in the early morning, a sign of hope and the renewal I long for. I’ve had this chance, to stop and be still. To notice the people who are around me, and appreciate them for all of who they are. Instead of the racing, chatter and noise, there is rest.
An opportunity to observe and listen, to allow my heart to speak to its glorious creator.
I’ve learnt to value that text message from a friend and to become overjoyed with gratitude at a simple visit or phone call. Each one a precious gift, of light in my day. The darker the darkness, the more radiant the light.
The longer I stay in this pit of chronic illness and feel the weight of the impressing darkness, the light, blessings, and love shine increasingly brighter.
I’ve opened my eyes to see that heaven is far closer than I ever thought.
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