Prolonged illness almost always equates to isolation.
Initially, kindness reveals itself through visits from friends and coworkers, meals dropped off, and many offers to help in any way. Not yet adjusted to my rapidly changing situation, I was overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed by such an outpouring, having always considered myself strong and independent.
Perhaps, I pushed others away. More likely, having been forced off the highway of life, everyone else moved on.
In the past, I defined a relationship in terms of responsibility. If I felt needed, then the relationship had value. In illness, I no longer have much to give. I now recognize that my former definition was not necessarily healthy, yet still struggle to imagine who would find my friendship worthwhile: another barrier to connecting.
Professional relationships have almost all disappeared. The commonality of ongoing training sessions and shared education-related challenges are no longer part of my life. Annual goal-setting reports absent, I am focusing on new goals now: baby steps really. Who can relate when aspirations equate to meeting daily hygiene requirements and hoping to publish one blog post every other day? Hardly inspirational.
Illness changes a person. From the outside, the transformation must be incomprehensible. Having grown up with a sister plagued by life-threatening illnesses, I know I interpreted much of her behaviour as selfish. Only now (long after she passed away) do I understand that it is self-preservation that drove her actions, not selfishness. I suspect most outsiders lack that perspective.
Add depression into the mix – a natural response to such dramatic life change – and there is another wall to interacting. I find myself battling with hypersensitivity, analyzing personal comments and twisting them into evil rejection. I am anxious of conversations that involve justification of how my life turned out so pathetically. I fear judgment.
Isolation is seldom listed as a symptom of chronic disease, but it certainly is a component. The need for human interaction is very real, in fact, psychologically, I would say it is essential.
Making a conscientious effort to reach out to others, balancing social activity with limited energy, and valuing myself enough to keep the negative self-talk to a minimum, is how I am currently countering isolation.
(Featured image: jessica-art.deviantart.com)