When living with a chronic illness, any chronic illness there are of course many symptoms that we are forced to live with as a consequence. Both physical and psychological effects of living with a long-term health condition such as the neurological condition that I live with everyday. Perhaps one of the most significant and common psychological repercussions of living with a chronic illness, which is not always discussed is loneliness.
Loneliness is often discussed in relation to the elderly. It is often seen as a consequence of getting older. However, loneliness is a feeling that can strike at any age and whatever the personal circumstances of the individual concerned. In my personal experience, through personal experience and with engaging with those within the chronic illness and the ‘spoonie’ community, loneliness can also be very much evident when living with chronic illness. Not only is loneliness is felt in terms of living with a chronic illness itself, in the feeling that no else understands what it is like with living with such an illness. However, loneliness can also manifest itself in the physical sense – the lack of company. One often consequence of being diagnosed with a chronic illness, is that friends can disappear from our lives. Many cannot handle seeing a friend being in pain, or cannot understand when plans are often cancelled due to the onset of debilitating symptoms. Living with chronic illness can often result in many hours spent alone in our homes. Hours spent lying in bed or on a comfortable sofa. Hours spent binge-watching boxsets, often because a lack of other options and to fill the deafening silence that surrounds us.
Being alone is something that I routinely have to deal with as my parents are often working and have few friends living nearby that have the time to visit and keep me company on those days in which my symptoms are particularly bad. It was on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day this year however, the feeling of loneliness and isolation was particularly evident. Like previous years, I celebrated the start of New Year alone, whilst my parents were sleeping upstairs (both were unfortunately started work early the next day) and as I had no contact with anybody and no-one had bothered to phone or text me to wish me a Happy New Year the feelings of loneliness were exacerbated. I felt jealous whilst watching the live New Year celebrations on television and seeing those people who were friends and family for the night meant for celebration, whilst I was sat on my own. The first day of a brand new year also started on my own in an empty house with only a dog whose only interest was sleeping. As cards drove onto our street and emptied with the arrival of visitors to other houses in my street, I felt even more alone and felt incredibly low.
It’s frustrating living with a neurological condition like mine. Due to the symptoms which are particularly debilitating such as the dizziness and weakness in the legs (which are unpredictable and it’s not known when they may give way), I am not able to get out of the house alone. Therefore, as a result it makes it even more difficult to be able to go out and make new friends. It’s as if my neurological condition has torn down bridges between myself and the life that I want to lead, and instead has built a wall around me, trapping and confining me.
It is of course, easy to make online friends or even penpals which I have been trying as a way to quench my thirst for human interaction and companionship. These are great substitutes and an easy way to make new friends, but I still crave face-to-face interaction with someone around my own age over a cup of hot chocolate. Isn’t that we all want in life? Plenty of friends that we can count on during the good and bad times in our lives? How to achieve that when living with an illness that prevents you from leaving the house unaided is still a huge question that remains.
Although that I hope to gain new friends during the coming year, and hoping that I will have people to celebrate the start of 2016 with…