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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

Chronic Illnesses and Loneliness (And How to Keep It at Bay)

Illness doesn’t exactly lend itself to socializing. Think about it for a moment: How often do you put being sick and hanging out in the same context? Being sick is unpleasant. Being around the sick is also unpleasant, both because they are sick and because the well person suffers too. They worry, they wonder, they adjust their own behaviors to improve the situation for the person who is sick. They also try to keep themselves clear of the ill person. Most folks don’t hang out with people when they have the flu after all.

Now think about this for a moment: What if someone doesn’t have a simple, routine illness that will pass in a few days? What if instead of the flu, someone has a chronic illness—one that will be with them for a long time, if not for the rest of their lives? For many people suffering from long term, chronic illnesses that avoidance and decrease in social interaction doesn’t just last a few days. Instead, it is a regular fact of life and this leads to loneliness.

Credit: Rose on DeviantArt

Those with chronic illness have long noted their experiences with increased social isolation and loneliness related to their illness experience. A community posting and subsequent comments on the support website But You Don’t Look Sick touched briefly on the topic. Author Rose Michels touched on some of the major elements of chronic illness-related loneliness. She notes that a decrease in social invitations from those close to the sufferer contributes to the isolation and loneliness even when the reason comes from a positive place, such as when people are trying to be mindful of someone’s limitations. She also notes that people simply disappearing from the ill person’s life is a contributing factor. Further, Michels adds that having a plan to handle the times of loneliness and isolation can make a difference for the person who is chronically ill, as recent studies confirm this.

A study published last month in the journal Health Psychology examined the feelings of the chronically ill and discovered that illness has an impact on how the sufferer feels emotionally in regards to loneliness. The study, conducted by Meaghan Barlow and Sarah Liu of Concordia University’s Personality Aging and Health Lab, measured the changes in loneliness in 121 older adults between 2004 and 2012. In addition to confirming that illness can contribute to loneliness, the study also found that self-protective strategies, such as continuing to socialize when possible and stay engaged, helped prevent loneliness. “Putting a halt to socializing only contributes to a downward spiral. Dealing with a chronic illness should not prevent you from still trying to get out there if you can,” the authors stated.

The takeaways, both from the community support post and the study? Chronic illness can cause social isolation leading to loneliness, but a few simple measures can help prevent or minimize it. First, one should actively avoid self-isolation. While how people in your life react to illness is outside of your control, choosing to engage with the people who remain a part of your life will prevent loneliness-causing isolation. Second, it is helpful to find ways to remain engaged even when physical socializing or friend groups may be limited. Blogging could be a way to express feelings as well as find like-minded support. And finally, finding something that inspires you can assist in staving off loneliness. A new hobby, a new pet, even a new interest can be an effective tool to keep the spirits up and offset the negative effects of loneliness.

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One Comment on “Chronic Illnesses and Loneliness (And How to Keep It at Bay)”

  1. marcy westerling March 10, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

    Amen!
    — Marcy Westerling

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