Coping With Loneliness When You Have Fibromyalgia

The Problem of Loneliness

Chronic pain and Invisible Illness are difficult conditions to live with and can lead to social withdrawal and loneliness. When you get sick, not only do you have to process and deal with things like surgeries, recovery, medications, new symptoms and flare-ups but socially you may have to give up hobbies and activities you once loved, making it hard to nurture friendships and relationships with those close to you.

 

It’s hard for those who love you to understand why you might have to cancel plans last minute or leave during the middle of the evening. Because they’ve never experienced what you’re going through, it’s hard to have a frame of reference. Unless you’ve lived it, it’s impossible to make others understand.

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Social Isolation Is Serious

Because of these changes that we have to make – like leaving in the middle of something or cancelling plans – we open ourselves up to feelings of social isolation, depression and anxiety and guilt.

Social isolation is defined as an occurrence when a person lacks opportunities to interact with people while loneliness is the subjective experience of distress over not having enough social relationships or enough contact with people. It is possible for a person with a chronic illness to be socially isolated and not feel lonely and someone with a chronic illness can feel lonely, while not being socially isolated. There are several issues that people with chronic illness face that can lead to social isolation and feeling lonely:

  • Disbelief from others when you don’t have a clear diagnosis
  • Physical limitations due to pain or fatigue
  • The unpredictability of symptom onset
  • The trigger of symptoms related to noises, smells, etc.
  • Lack of a strong support system (Family and/or Friends)
  • Changes in employment or financial stability
  • Loss of hobbies and outside activities

Social isolation and feeling lonely are important health problems and should not be overlooked. The chronic illness population is at an even higher risk for social isolation and this problem should be addressed with your Doctor along with other symptoms and risk factors.

What You Can Do About It

When you are socially isolated and have feelings of loneliness, it can actually make your chronic illness worse. The longer you are experiencing isolation or loneliness, the more you start to develop feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, distrust and abandonment toward yourself and others. The more these feelings grow, the less likely you are to seek out real human connections.

So what can you do when you start having these feelings?

1. Recognize loneliness for what it is, and accept that you have these feelings. Self-awareness is important in making positive changes. When you catch yourself falling into old habits, you’ll be able to more quickly turn things around.

2. Use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to help reframe your thoughts to become more positive and open to socialization. This can be done with the help of a therapist or through online courses and over time, can be very effective.

3. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself and start forcing yourself to recognize if this is your “go-to response. Deliberately try doing the opposite of what you’re feeling – instead of retreating into watching TV, take a walk or pick up the phone and call someone. The more you resist the temptation to isolate, the easier it becomes

4. Fill your life with loving positive people who are patient and trustworthy and who truly try to understand what you are going through. They will be your encouragers and biggest support system. Remove negative people from your life…you don’t need their energy.

5. Try one new thing each week that will get you to meet new people. Try an art class, go to yoga, volunteer… anything that will get you to meet new people who like doing things that you like to do.

6. Seek out a support group for your illness. This is a great way to meet people who really do understand what you’re going through. Even an online group is fine to get started as being with like-minded people will help to engage you instead of isolating you.

7. Ask for what you need in your life. Don’t feel you’re being a burden on others…when someone asks what they can do for you to help, they genuinely want to help. Let them…give them the opportunity to be of service to you. Perhaps it’s to invite you out for coffee once a week or to go take a class together. You’ll be helping them as much as they will be helping you.

8. Consider therapy. It can help you explore any deeper issues that might be contributing to loneliness or social isolation. Therapy can also be a great accountability and skills training support to help you manage all of the difficult things you are going through in a safe way.

Remember, 

There Is Always Hope

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!

 

 

Stream of Consciousness Saturday

Welcome!
I’m taking part in a new thing, from the blog of author Linda G. Hill.  Every Friday, she provides a word to get Bloggers writing, and I found out about it from my friend and fellow blogger Amelia at youcanalwaysstartnow .
Today’s word is “call“. The idea behind this stream of consciousness writing is that you write without thinking about a subject using whatever word or phrase is given and you can only edit for spelling errors. So, here goes.
After posting about One Being the Loneliest Number, I had to admit to myself that I have been very lonely lately. I don’t have many friends on the Island and  those that I do have are busy people and not easily accessible when it comes to getting together. This week is especially bad as Ray is away on a bike trip with the guys and won’t be back until next week on either Tuesday or Wednesday. That’s only 5 days but it’s 5 long days for me. I miss him even though we don’t do a lot together when he is here because he goes to bed so early because of his long days at work.
Anyways, so I was feeling particularly lonely tonight so I went to my favourite online Facebook group and I posted about it. This group is a group of fans of Jenny Lawson’s, the author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy, as well as her book/colouring book You Are Here. And what I posted was my address and that I would love postcards and notes and cards to cheer me up. And people responded!!! I have a number of online friends from this group whom I dearly love and they were all so sweet…they’ll be writing to me soon. And other people who I don’t know well in the group said the same thing!! Plus I got three wonderful emails after leaving my email address for one person who is on bed-rest in the hospital awaiting the birth of her son, and those made me cry, and I just feel so loved and a whole lot less lonely in this big ole world!!
and all it took was for me to put a call out into the world to say I’m lonely.
If you’d like to take part in Stream of Consciousness Saturday, here are the rules from Linda Hill (all references to “I” belong to her)
1. Your post must be stream of consciousness writing, meaning no editing (typos can be fixed), and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.
2. Your post can be as long or as short as you want it to be. One sentence – one thousand words. Fact, fiction, poetry – it doesn’t matter. Just let the words carry you along until you’re ready to stop.
3. I will post the prompt here on my blog every Friday, along with a reminder for you to join in. The prompt will be one random thing, but it will not be a subject. For instance, I will not say “Write about dogs”; the prompt will be more like, “Make your first sentence a question,” “Begin with the word ‘The,’” or will simply be a single word to get you started.
4. Ping back! It’s important, so that I and other people can come and read your post! For example, in your post you can write “This post is part of SoCS:” and then copy and paste the URL found in your address bar at the top of this post into yours.  Your link will show up in my comments for everyone to see. The most recent pingbacks will be found at the top. NOTE: Pingbacks only work from WordPress sites. If you’re self-hosted or are participating from another host, such as Blogger, please leave a link to your post in the comments below.
5. Read at least one other person’s blog who has linked back their post. Even better, read all of them! If you’re the first person to link back, you can check back later or go to the previous week by following my category, “Stream of Consciousness Saturday,” which you’ll find below the “Like” button on my post.
6. Copy and paste the rules (if you’d like to) in your post. The more people who join in, the more new bloggers you’ll meet and the bigger your community will get!
7. As a suggestion, tag your post “SoCS” and/or “#SoCS” for more exposure and more views.
8. Have fun!
There is always hope!
 

One Is The Loneliest Number

Living with Chronic pain is lonely.
I’ve been very lucky in my life with chronic pain in that I have a wonderful support team. My husband is amazing – he truly gets it and understands what I’m experiencing as he’s starting having some chronic pain issues of his own. My kids are terrific too and are my biggest cheerleaders. I’ve been blessed with amazing friends who are sympathetic to what I go through on a daily basis, and who understand when I need to cancel plans at the last minute because of my health.
But I’m lonely.
Chronic pain causes you to isolate yourself because you hurt so much all the time, you just don’t want to be around people, yet you don’t want to be alone either. You never know when a flare is going to happen, so you tend to not make plans because you don’t want to be that flake who is constantly cancelling things. I’d rather try and make spontaneous plans but it never feels spontaneous to me…it actually feels desperate. And nine times out of ten, when I do make plans, I end up cancelling them because I wake up on the day of the big event feeling horrid. It’s generally because I’m exhausted as well as being in pain, but no amount of napping is going to make me feel well enough to go out. Of course, if I didn’t have plans that day, I’d have slept just fine the night before. It seems that I’m busy sleep stressing about the date, knowing I’m going to wake up feeling crappy, and then sure enough because I’m sleep stressing…I wake up feeling crappy! And even though I have great friends, I’m sure they must get tired of me flaking off all the time too.
It’s even harder when the people in your life don’t “get it”. This quote comes from Stephanie Schwerin Uplook from a Facebook Fibro Group I belong to and is used with her permission.
This is what she had to say:
Fibro sucks…having family members that don’t get it and don’t listen to one word you say when you try to explain how and what you feel. It’s not cancer, it’s not something they know anything about, it’s not terminal, it’s not that bad. You look fine…I’m really tired of being brushed off like it’s not that big of a deal. They don’t know how bad it can feel, the physical and mental toll it takes on me. No clue, no sense in trying to explain it. This last flare lasted a week and it was bad yesterday and today I’m tired and sore, I feel like my body is trying to recover from the flare, depression has kicked in. I’m wondering if this is how the rest of my life will be.
You know what’s the most aggravating?? I’ve changed so much of my lifestyle to get rid of this crap and I’ve seen no change. I swim every day, I have weights for the pool, I watch what I eat, I’ve researched and researched, I walk most days, I take magnesium supplements and I’ve seen a Rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic. Those are just a few of the things…and for everything I’ve done, it seems to be getting worse with every flare. That’s depressing. I’m 49 yrs old and to watch me get out of a sitting position after only 5 mins of sitting, you would think you were watching a 90 yr old. My husband can’t believe how quick my body locks up, even after I’ve been in the pool for an hour or how I can’t turn over in bed once I lay down. Getting up out of bed is another struggle…I’m so tired of this crap. I really don’t talk much about how and what I feel anymore with anyone. I get tired of hearing myself complain about how I feel, I’m sure they do too. I mostly have a good positive attitude and can deal with this but today, I’m tired, I’m tired of all of this.
Wow…that’s painful to read. But it happens to most of us and if you’re reading this and you have Fibro or Chronic Pain of some type, you’re probably nodding your head and recalling when this has happened to you.
Lately, most of my mornings have started off with a good cry…I’m 56 and it just hit me recently that this is NEVER GOING TO GO AWAY. No matter what I do, or how good I treat my body, this Fibro is never going to go away and in fact, will probably get worse as time goes by.
That’s a thought worth getting depressed about. How does one stay positive when that’s what you have to look forward to…nothing but more days of pain and exhaustion and the people you love not understanding you, so you continue to feel guilty about having a disease like this, like it’s your fault somehow.
All I can say for sure is that it’s NOT your fault, and you have to take as good of care of your body as possible and not let the words of others hurt you. They mean well, but they don’t understand what it’s like for us, because there is no way to make them understand. No description we give them of Fibro can possibly come close to actually living it. Just do your best to keep your spirits up, try not to blame them and do what you can to stay as healthy as possible. Find as many comfort measures as you can on the days you feel the worst and make a list of all the things that are good in your life so you can refer back to it on your really bad days. Those are the things I do. I also try to reach out to help others as it takes me out of my head and puts me into “action mode”.
So what do you do when it comes to loneliness? What do you do when you need help? My dear friend Brenda Teichroeb Heywood suggested this particular blog post today. She is a single mom of 7 children ranging in age from adult to 3 and is going through a very difficult situation right now plus getting ready to move. She had this to say:
“I have always been the type of person who did not want to barge in during a sensitive time for someone. In their pain, I did not want to bulldoze my way in and then expect them to be grateful for my “help”. Yet, here I am, desperate for help in this very drowning experience and so many are sitting back and waiting for me to tell them what I want. I am just so overwhelmed, it would be better for someone to just jump in. I wonder if it would be a helpful post to write to those who live with or know people to struggle with chronic pain. Is it better to jump in and help the person? Is it better to respect space and wait?”
I responded back to her:
“Sometimes the people able to help just don’t know how to. Personally, I think people stand back waiting to be asked because they don’t want to interfere with or disrupt a person’s life. They don’t want to intrude. It’s like saying “call me if you need anything”. They’re willing to help, but the onus is on you to reach out for it.”
And she replied:
“It’s hard. To be so exhausted and then still do the asking. One friend has offered over and over that she’ll help me in any way. I’ve asked multiple times for help with packing and sorting and she has yet to show up. Sigh. This is not for forever, but I’m worn thin. And I think the little girl in me just wants to be rescued. Maybe what we need from others is a person by person thing or season by season.”
Isn’t that how we all feel…like we want to be rescued? Yet the only person who can truly rescue us from loneliness is ourselves. If no one knows how we’re feeling, we can’t blame them. And if no one “gets” what we’re going through, we either have to keep finding ways to explain it or realize that perhaps they just don’t want to get it. Maybe they don’t believe us, or maybe they’re too overwhelmed with what we experience. We frighten them with the intensity of our pain and fatigue and finality of this disease. They know it’s never going to end just as much as we do, but they don’t know what to do or say, so they do and say nothing. Or if they say something, it’s a joke. Or a nasty comment. Defence mechanisms come in all shapes and forms, so we can’t take it personally or we’ll go mad.
Loneliness goes hand in hand with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue and all Invisible Illnesses. It’s up to us to learn how we want to manage it. Do we want to reach out to others or have them reach out to us? We need to communicate that to the people we love, so they know what the expectations are. You’d be surprised how many of your friends may be sitting there, waiting for you to call to say you’d love to get together with them – and they’ve just been waiting to hear from you to give the go ahead.
One is the loneliest number but it doesn’t have to be. Pick up the phone, send an email, say hi on Facebook…do whatever is easiest, but make a connection soon. Turn your one into two.
There is always hope.