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When I Say Chronic Illness Makes Me Lonely, This Is What I Mean

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No man is an island… unless that man is chronically ill. Chronic illness can make an island out of those who have it.

Y’know that feeling everyone has as a teenager? That “no one understands me” feeling. Take that and multiply it by a million and that’s chronic illness. At least when dealing with teenagers people have a point of reference since they were once teenaged themselves. The same can’t be said about chronic illness. With chronic illness, you don’t get it ’til you literally get it.

I’m going to be honest here, I don’t know how to cope with the loneliness that accompanies chronic illness. It is so gut-wrenching and all-encompassing. It’s not just the literal state of being alone, either. Along with the physical solitude comes the mental. I could be in a room full of people and still feel utterly and hopelessly alone, because everyone in the room is able to function so seamlessly while I’m trapped in a cage of my unreliable body’s making.

Despite our most valiant efforts, time will not stand still for us; so our friends and family move on without us. And we’ve got no choice but to watch them go. Those closest to us often claim to understand. They see us being left behind and they feel badly for us. Some grasp at straws to try to empathize, but it’s impossible to grasp the totality of the loneliness without truly being in our shoes. There’s no way to fully comprehend the utter devastation of chronic illness. It destroys everything in its wake, and we’re left shakily holding on to the memory of who we once were, the friends and family we once had, the life we once led. We grieve the potential we lost.

For someone who’s constantly treading emotional water in an attempt not to drown in my sorrows, I hold myself together quite well for the most part. I put on the bravest of faces and act like it’s no big deal. It’s fine my family is going out of town without me. I’m happy for my friends who are surpassing life’s biggest milestones. I joke about how my life is in shambles, all my plans fall through, I can’t do the things I love anymore. I say, “Thank God I’m an introvert because I spend 90 percent of my time alone,” and, “Isn’t it funny how before we moved here, I complained how much I despised this house, and now I spend the most time here out of anyone?” I must laugh or I will cry, and if I start crying I don’t know when or if I’ll ever stop.

There is some hope, however, because there are other chronically ill people out there. Other lonely people whose experiences resemble my own. I have not met any in real life, but the internet is a wonderful thing that has allowed me to forge deep, meaningful friendships with people who truly do get it. People who know how I feel because they have been through it themselves. Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone to be lonely with.

Follow this journey on Chronically Candid.

Originally published: April 5, 2019
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