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Realizing My Mental Illness and Chronic Pain Actually Makes Me Lonely

I was recently presented with the question of whether or not I was lonely. I sat and thought to myself: “No, I’m not lonely. I have a wonderful support system and I’m never alone, even when I feel like I am.” And it hit me. I feel utterly alone when I am depressed or having a bad bout of anxiety. I feel alone when it comes to my chronic pain issues. I feel alone when I am drowning in the depths of my mental and emotional pain. I am lonely. I am so lonely, I feel hopeless. Health issues are isolating, whether an intense short-term situation or a lifelong diagnosis. I began to think of the reasons why it feels this way and why I may feel I have no one when in reality, I do.

1. Being in pain emotionally, mentally, or physically makes me feel like a burden. I don’t want to burden those whom I love and value so often I retreat within my walls of pain and reside there with no windows or doors, even though I’m screaming internally, deep down, for someone to save me.

2. Being conditioned from past abusive relationships or people who were not able to or willing to see, acknowledge or accept things outside of their own life experiences. Those who refuse to seek to understand me have made me feel inadequate and undeserving of love and support.

3. Stigmas attached to anything related to mental illness, disabilities or people who are different.

4. Not wanting to admit I have these struggles.

5. Not wanting to give into them because of the societal outlook of mental illness as being broken, incapable of success or “crazy.”

Loneliness, they say, is a detriment to one’s health and well-being. Loneliness increases mortality. Loneliness is for all intents and purposes a silent killer.

The past couple of years, I have unknowingly been fighting loneliness. Every time I write something for The Mighty, every song or poem, every time I comment on posts or message someone and connect with them about some hard life situations they may be navigating that I have experience with, I am combatting loneliness. Up until about two years ago, I was so lonely. Not just when I was having an uphill battle with my depression and felt like it turned into a mountain. Not just when I experienced a situation that would trigger a negative emotional response from past trauma. All of the time.

I could have been surrounded by friends, going out every weekend, keeping myself so busy no one knew how I did it. It was to keep myself from truly feeling the full weight of my loneliness. But none of those things truly addressed the issue until I got to a point where I realized I see people struggling just like I do. I realized speaking up and out about my struggles may help make someone else, even if it’s just one person, feel a little less alone in a situation where it feels like you are in an endless loop of pain and loneliness. So I write, I comment, I private message people. And time and time again, the response is: “Thank you.” “I appreciate you opening up.” “You made me realize I’m not alone.” “What you’ve been through and overcome is inspirational and gives me hope.”

We are all lonely in some way or another. Many of the circumstances that create isolating situations, including many other health issues or life circumstances, go hand-in-hand with loneliness. Someone going through a nasty divorce or custody battle can feel alone and in need of support, but they don’t know how to ask for it or who to ask. Someone with a sick child. Someone with a lifelong disability.

We are our friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers’ best chance and support system. Our friends, acquaintances and sometimes those random strangers are ours. I ask that we all stay vigilant against this silent killer, I ask that we assume the best from people and understand that what someone presented to us may not be a true reflection of what they’re going through internally. Make the effort to check in with loved ones, and message someone if they post something that seems like they may be struggling regardless of whether they’re a good friend or not. You truly don’t know what that might mean to them. You don’t know the influence you may have on someone’s day, week or life. Combatting loneliness can be as simple as a text, a call, a private message, a meme sent, a comment. It does not require you to do much, other than just actively try to be there in whatever small way you can.

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