Fibromyalgia and Loneliness

Having a chronic illness like Fibromyalgia can be a very isolating experience. Many of us used to work and found a lot of our social life revolved around our jobs, whether it was getting together with the gang after work for drinks or volunteering with a workgroup for a community project. Often, a best friend was made at our jobs whom we would hang out with more frequently, and those sorts of friendships became treasured relationships to us.

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After you become chronically ill though, you often have to give up working, and those relationships no longer exist, not even with the “best friend” that you made. How do you handle the loneliness that comes from that? We tend to not go out a lot in the first place, because of pain and fatigue, so without a reason to get together with former co-workers, there’s now more reason to isolate ourselves than ever. It’s depressing to know that you’re no longer “part of the gang”  and that you don’t fit in anymore. It’s even more depressing to know that your former friends don’t even realize that they’ve shut you out. It’s just the natural progression of you no longer being at the job, and nothing personal.

Reaching Out

But what happens when you try to reach out, to make plans, and people don’t return calls? Or when people reach out to you, but you’re unable to go, because their plans are too ambitious for you? I’d love to see people for coffee, but they always want to combine it with shopping followed by dinner and drinks afterwards, and that’s too much of a day for me. Lunch and shopping, I can do that on a good day, but then I want to go home. And if it’s a bad day, then I have to say no right from the start. And what happens if I start having too many bad days when friends want to get together? They stop calling, period. I am “too sick all the time” and no longer any fun to be with.  It’s easy to get depressed when this happens.

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It’s so frustrating when friends give up on you. I can’t control my good and bad days. I have no idea when a good day is going to go bad. I can feel great in the morning and then start to go downhill by the early afternoon. I try to explain that to people, but they don’t always understand how unpredictable Fibromyalgia can be. Sometimes it can change from hour to hour and even minute by minute. It’s like going outside in changing weather and never being sure of how many layers you should wear. Will you be too hot, too cold or just right? And what do you do with all those layers if you don’t need them?

There’s also the other side of the coin though. What if your friends continue to invite you out, but you keep turning them down? Your reasons seem valid; you’re in pain, it’s too much of a hassle, the weather is too difficult, you’re tired, or you just don’t feel like it. It’s easy to make excuses, but you also need to search the real reasons for saying no. Are the reasons you’re giving valid? Or are you turning down invitations because of depression?

Signs to Watch Out For

How do you know if you’re becoming depressed or socially isolated? Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Being less motivated to leave your home
  • Feeling more anxious or worried when leaving the house
  • Declining invitations from friends or family to meet or attend gatherings
  • Planning fewer social opportunities for yourself
  • Ignoring supports when they reach out to you
  • Seeing only negatives associated with social connections

If you recognize any of these symptoms, please see a doctor in order to be treated appropriately. If you want to be more socially active, but find your friends are not as available as they’ve been in the past, the following suggestions might be helpful for you:

  • Volunteer with like-minded people
  • Help out in an animal shelter
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  • Take up a new hobby
  • Join a support group (in person or online)
  • Join a Social Group in your City (look on Craigslist)
  • Keep a journal – it can help put things in perspective

Loneliness can be hard to deal with, but with the right understanding and support, you can overcome it. Make sure you’re staying in touch with people and not isolating yourself, and reach out to others if your friends have stopped reaching out to you. It’s okay to move forward and make new friends. Listen to your body and do what’s right for you. If you’re feeling up to it, go out and make new friendships through volunteer work or so social groups. If you need to take a break from socializing, that’s fine. Just don’t fade into the woodwork. Remember, your presence is valued no matter how much of it you are able to give at any time. You are loved. And as I always say…

There Is Always Hope!

 

 

Wishing While I (Don't) Work

It’s Monday, and I wish I was at work.

Now a lot of you are probably thinking I’m crazy, and I am. While you’re getting up early in the morning to face the rush hour commute to go to a job you may not even enjoy, I could still be snuggled in my bed, fast asleep without a care in the world, right? Well, that’s the scenario you probably have in your head, but it’s far from the truth. As a Person with Chronic Pain (PwCP), I’ve probably been awake half the night because pain wouldn’t let me sleep; every muscle feels like concrete and every joint feels like someone has twisted it, put it into a machining vise and then clamped it three times tighter than necessary.

My brain hurts too…I want to be going to work with you. I loved my job prior to going on Long Term Disability (LTD) and the jobs I held before that. I was an Administrative Specialist at several different companies, mostly supporting Retail Operations and the people who managed the work; Directors, District Managers and Store Managers. In the past, I’ve worked for Rogers and Bell and my last company was The Forzani Group, now known as FGL Sports.  I supported the group that ran the former Sport Mart stores (now closed), but am still considered an employee of FGL Sports while on LTD.  I receive an employee discount and recently celebrated 10 years with the company.

I worked with an amazing group of people. I loved going into my job every day, knowing it was going to be challenging and fun and never knowing exactly what the day might bring. I organized team training events for Store Managers, travel and training for the District Managers, travel for the Regional Manager Rob Hillier and kept the Director, John Hould on track for his daily activities.

Then came the days when work started to become difficult. Too difficult. I had been doing all of this under the radar of Invisible Illness, which none of them knew about but it was starting to become an issue. Things that used to come easily to me became a struggle. I was famous for remembering things without needing a list and suddenly I was carrying notebooks with me because the Brain Fog was so bad. I would stop conversations in the middle of speaking because I forgot what I was saying. My pain levels were getting higher and higher but I refused to use a cane at work for my bad hip to ease the pain as I didn’t want to be perceived as being weak or incapable of being effective (this was prior to my right hip replacement). I couldn’t concentrate during meetings and even typing became a challenge – it still is to this day.

Once all the Sport Mart stores were closed, there wasn’t really a job for me any  longer, so the HR department encouraged me to go on Short Term Disability while I figured out my health issues. Short term became Long Term, and I never went back. My last day of work was in October of 2009. I started with the company in February of 2008. That’s right…I’ve been on Disability with FGL Sports for over four times longer than I worked for them. It was distressing for me to have to leave, because I loved the work and I was very good at what I did. My identity was wrapped up in my work and had been since I first started my career in 1991. When I found myself at home on leave, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I slept a lot in the beginning which was healing, but after that, I didn’t know what to do. I felt invisible, as I’ve discussed on this blog before. And being invisible can be a very painful thing. People accused me of not wanting to work, that this was an extended vacation for me, and that was really hurtful. If they could see inside me, they would know how very much I wanted to be back at my desk, with meaningful work to do. The mistake I made is that I didn’t go around complaining about my health at work, so no one knew how badly I was hurting except for a couple of select people in HR, plus my bosses John and Rob. 

I’ve asked my friend Tori Martin if I could share a quote here that she recently posted on Facebook and she graciously gave me her permission. This is what she said:

“STOP suggesting that people with disabilities of ANY kind just aren’t trying hard enough.

There are VERY few people who don’t want to work and contribute in a meaningful way according to society standards. Additionally, being able to work is NOT the ultimate measure of a person’s worth. Frankly, I am much more impressed at how a person treats others than what kind of work they do.I myself am unable to work due to physical limitations and it drives me crazy sometimes. Guess what though, I still have an incredible amount to give! I contribute to society through my photography, through having a huge heart that shows so much love and concern of others, through helping others, through occasional teaching of archery which helps many find confidence and enjoyment in physical activity. I contribute by paying taxes, voting, getting involved in local groups and causes and supporting local businesses. I am NOT a waste of space. And not that it’s anyone’s business, but I worked from the age of 10 until I was 39 and was literally bed-ridden for 2 years. My dr’s have been trying to help find ways of giving me back quality of life and things are so much better than those first two years, but nowhere near where they need to be to hold down even a part-time job. Telling people with mental or physical disabilities they have no worth if they can’t work is b*llshit and needs to stop. I am disgusted to have to say this after reading comments on a friend’s post. Apparently compassion and empathy is something that some folks just don’t have.”

 I think Tori really nails it with that comment. She lives with Rheumatoid Arthritis that really affects her hands and I know for a fact that she would love to be working if it were possible. Her friend John Hewak responded with this reply to her post: 

 “What makes it worse is that we feel the need to justify ourselves, due to both real and perceived judgement from others. People say things like “must be nice”, or “how can I get that?” Well first get f*cking sick, really sick, lose almost everything, navigate the tortuous health system, marshal up a posse of docs, specialist, therapists etc who validate you, get a lawyer, get on welfare, go through the painful application procedure and wait months to hear back while you sink into poverty. Most applicants are rejected first time . Repeat and rinse. If the institutional, bureaucratic, legal, and medical stars align, you might be accepted, in which case you get $1,000 to live on monthly., while you struggle with pain and alienation on a daily basis. Try that for a while. Wow, it’s so great not to work! Living the life of Riley.”

And finally, a third friend named John Poulson replied:

“I have found that people who give the most are the ones who have experienced hardship the most. People who have never experienced hardships have absolutely no idea or clue of what life really all about. It’s not about “things” but the experience you lend or give to others. Having compassion and showing that there are people out in the world that do care. Live; love; laugh. It’s the tears that makes one appreciate the good things in life. That’s my motto. ❤️❤️

It’s hard to be at home when you’d rather be out earning a living. Everyone thinks we have it so great, but when you’re housebound and feeling like crap, there’s nothing fun about it at all. We tend to be forgotten by our friends and sometimes our family members as well. We don’t get to go out and do “fun” things whenever we want – our time is generally taken up with Doctor appointments or physiotherapy treatments, etc. anyway.

So, to wrap this up, don’t forget your friend or family member who lives with Chronic Pain from Invisible Illness. Call them, ask to stop by for a visit, or to take them out of the house for a bit, whether it’s for lunch, or just a drive. They will let you know what they’re up for and how much energy they have. Even if they say no and they’d rather stay home, just keep in touch. That’s all we’re asking for. And don’t assume we’re being lazy. Trust me…most of us would rather be working if it were possible. 

At least I would. 

Remember…there is always hope.