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Why Loneliness Can Be a Challenge With Chronic Illness – Even With Incredible Friends

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

Loneliness is a common problem for those with chronic disease. We may have absolutely incredible friends, but friends are often busy. Friends also have families, commitments and their own personal problems. We may not want to bother them with our problems in fear of scaring them away or being judged by our illnesses. It is hard for others to know what we are going through and that some pain may be our baseline. Another difficult concept for others to understand is that it may take one day to get sick but several days to weeks to recover from an acute flare.

Friends Can Distract Us From Pain

For me, hanging with friends is a huge distraction from my Crohn’s pain. When I am laughing with friends, I tend to dissociate from my pain. Oftentimes, my pain decreases to very manageable levels. However, when I am at home, alone, and having a bad Crohn’s day, I struggle to distract myself from the pain. There is only so much that a heating pad, rest, TV and self-care can do.

Too Sick to Go Out

It is even more difficult when I am too sick to go out with my friends. I of course want my friends to live their lives and do not expect them to not go out because of me. At the same time, it is really tough to stay home and watch Snapchats of my friends having fun while I am sad at home splitting my time between the bed and the bathroom. It makes all the difference when my friends check on me. I remember my senior week of college well. I was on a toxic dose of an immunosuppressant medication at the time and did not know it. My senior week was one of the sickest weeks of my life. It should have been the most incredible, memorable week of my life. Instead of going out every night with my friends, enjoying my last few nights of college with my classmates before we went our separate ways, I was doubled over in my bed each night. Completely alone. It made all the difference when my friends checked in on me, cried with me and shared their love. Of course my friends felt helpless, but they may never realize how much their presence meant to me, for which I am forever grateful.

Friends May Be Intimidated by Illness

Oftentimes, friends may feel uncomfortable with sickness, helpless and do not know how to help a friend with a chronic disease. For them, hospitals may be a scary place – they may have seen close relatives battle a scary illness, or they may be going through their own health struggles. It’s important to understand this and support our friends the same way they support us. We cannot expect our friends to completely understand what we are going through, but we can lead by example by treating our friends the way we wish to be treated. Additionally, we should educate others about our conditions in a polite way.

Take Action

If you are struggling physically or emotionally, talk to your doctor. You may need a treatment modification. Make sure you are supporting your body by practicing self-care. There is no shame in talking to a therapist, especially if you are struggling. If your friends stop inviting you out, make the plans yourself. Invite friends over. Schedule a girls’ night. Do something that makes you happy every single day.

Live Your Best Life

Work, exercise, make plans with friends if you’re able. Join a support group specific for your illness. Staying busy can help keep us distracted from our pain, constantly in the presence of others and productive. Yes, there may be days we need to scale back, but I believe living our most “normal” lives is one of the best ways we can support our bodies. Sitting alone at home may only cause us to think of our problems more, so try making plans, distracting yourself from the pain and sharing how you are feeling with your friends. If you do not feel well enough to leave the house, you could invite a friend over for a quiet movie night. Remember that there are thousands of others battling similar conditions to you and likely feeling the same loneliness at times. Reach out to these individuals via in person or online support groups. Oftentimes, we develop strong friendships with others fighting similar fights. These friendships are invaluable, especially when we are struggling, and help us realize we are never alone.

Getty Image by Vera Agency

Originally published: September 10, 2018
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