4 Reasons Your Chronic Condition Brings Feelings of Loneliness
A chronic condition can bring feelings of loneliness as you’re making lifestyle adjustments to keep yourself going. In fact, social isolation and loneliness makes you more likely to have mental and physical health challenges. Here are some situations that put you at risk to feeling more lonely and ways to deal with it successfully.
#1. Spending More Time Away Managing Your Health Condition
Chronic health conditions tend to require a lot of maintenance.
There are many moments where you might find yourself spending more time away caring for your health (i.e., multiple doctors appointments, needing time to recover, etc.). However, taking time away can make you feel really lonely when you are not doing activities and spending time enjoying the people you love.
While away you hear updates about the lives of other people, reminding you that their life is moving on. It’s not uncommon to have FOMO (fear of missing out) when you hear how exciting things are for everyone around you while managing your chronic condition. The loneliness can start to sink in quickly and take a toll on your mental health.
Many people report feeling unseen and unheard when they are taking time away to recover with their chronic illness. The feelings of loneliness can get stronger when you realize that your loved ones are not reaching out to check on you. Those moments can make you pay more attention to the fact that the phone isn’t ringing or getting text notifications as often.
And that alone can make you feel like others have forgotten about you while you’re away.
#2. People in Your Circle Don’t Understand What It’s Like Living with a Chronic Illness
One of the most common challenges of living with a chronic condition is that your specific illness may not be common knowledge to people around you. Truthfully, your condition could be rare, or (if you’re in my case) be a taboo topic in your community that most people don’t talk about.
None of these realities are your fault, but it can make it hard to connect with people when they don’t understand what you’re going through.
Many chronically ill people find themselves trying to overcome this issue by explaining their health condition to other people around them. Sometimes you find this happening constantly, which can be frustrating and make you want to stop talking about it completely.
Another alternative to talking about your health is covering up what you feel by acting like it’s not affecting you at all. Although this can serve its purpose in different situations, it can actually make you feel more lonely and confuse others around you even more over time.
I know. It’s a really tough situation to be in because you want to be understood, but you don’t want the conversations about your health to make you feel more lonely than you already were.
It’s also challenging when other people cannot readily notice that you are living with an invisible chronic health condition despite you telling them what you’re going through. The disconnect from your health experience can play a role in feeling lonely.
Statements Your Loved Ones Say When They Don’t Understand Your Health Condition:
- You don’t look sick.
- You were just fine yesterday.
- You’re just tired. I’m tired too, but I still do what I need to do.
- You canceled our plans again?
- You can’t be in that much pain, because you look like you’re having a good time.
Loneliness grows when others around you don’t understand your experience with your chronic condition. Talking about your chronic illness is one way to help them understand, but ultimately your loved ones need to take the personal time to learn your health condition instead of leaving it all on you to inform them.
#3. Unsupportive Relationships Make You Feel More Lonely
The chronic illness community often expresses feeling lonely when loved ones refuse to support you despite knowing you need it.
I hear every day how chronically ill people are made to feel small and lonely by those around them. Many people say that these unsupportive relationships make them feel like they’re doing something wrong when honest about their health condition.
Do you have relationships in your life that make you feel like you are a burden? Perhaps others express feelings of anger towards you when you let them know how they can be of support to you?
If so, these are the types of relationships that can contribute to you feeling more emotionally and physically unwell, because it increases your chances of facing loneliness. These relationships make the days longer and harder than they need to be.
And you don’t need that. You need to be around people that help you experience more good days and support you when the days are not so great.
One of the most important aspects of living with a chronic illness is having others around you that encourage you on the hard days. They can help you meet your needs, be a gentle distraction and help keep your mood steady when recovering or in a flare.
#4. Constant Reminders That Your Chronic Condition Makes You Different
There are many unknowns when living with a chronic condition. Particularly when you are unsure of how your body will respond on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes you might feel different from the beginning of the day to the end, making it difficult to feel a sense of control in your life.
The unpredictability with your health requires you to make key adjustments to recover. But what happens when those adjustments bring on reminders of what you can’t do?
Loneliness can feel more intense when you see other people doing things that are not doable for you. From traveling, working, attending school, chasing your dreams, going to social events, or even having friends over… All of these experiences are impacted when you’re living with a chronic illness.
That’s a major adjustment to your life with a chronic illness.
As you’re noticing these differences from yourself and other people, it can make you literally feel like a unicorn (and not a magical one). And if you’re not careful, those feelings can get you stuck in a vicious cycle where you are hard on yourself. The cycle leads you to question your worth because other people are doing more at the time.
These types of questions and thoughts can lead you to have an identity crisis if not careful, because how you interact with the world changes after you receive a chronic illness diagnosis.
And that’s unfair to you.
Self-Compassion Can Help When You Feel Lonely and Different
The truth of the matter is that your chronic illness has changed you. But you’re not different because you’ve lost your value or have done something wrong. Your chronic condition makes you different because you have to approach your life differently to keep yourself going.
Go easy on yourself to protect your mind from slipping into a dark place.This is the time for you to be compassionate with yourself. “Self-compassion means you are being warm and understanding to yourself when you suffer, fail or feel inadequate.” It helps you focus on supporting yourself instead of beating yourself up.
How to Feel Less Lonely with a Chronic Condition
If you’re tired of feeling lonely and isolated, recognize that this speaks to a big piece of who you are. You value connection and relationships. So be honest with yourself about how you feel then gently move forward to give yourself what you need.
It’s time for you to do something that supports you in living out your values of connection with others. Ask yourself this question: How can I connect with other people in ways that work for me right now?
Here are some initial tips to feel less lonely:
- Set a goal to reach out to at least 2 people throughout your week that can help you to feel connected and special.
- Participate in activities with others in your household or community within reason (i.e., games, watching a movie, observing your children playing, sharing a meal).
- Invite a loved one over for a few minutes, just to give you a brief visit or help around the home.
- Tell others how to connect with you from a distance (cards, phone calls, meals sent over, videos, etc).
- Participate in chronic illness support groups.
- Schedule an appointment with a chronic illness therapist.
- Use mobility, supports as needed to be more present with others in your community.
- Make a list of things you can do by yourself (and while in recovery) that bring you peace and joy. This may be learning a new hobby, reading, listening to a podcast or even blogging.
Feeling lonely while living with a chronic illness is normal at times, and it can come and go in waves. But it does not have to be the way that you always exist.
Next Steps for Combating Loneliness with a Chronic Illness
I help chronically ill teens and adults who are feeling lonely as they make adjustments to manage their health condition. Therapy is a powerful tool that can help you build connections that combat loneliness.
Therapy can make your health journey more bearable as you discuss your chronic condition and its affects on your life. The skills we practice during therapy give you more confidence, boosting your mental health.
You also have the opportunity to invite loved ones to appointments to help you feel more connected and understood.
You’re not alone, and feeling connected while living with a chronic condition is possible.
Schedule your first appointment with me by booking a free 15-minute consultation.