If we have restricted mobility we can feel even more isolated. Being unable to participate meaningfully, we may feel disconnected from the world, life and others. We’re still alive and in life, yet we don’t feel nearly as much an active part of life. This can feel extremely lonely.
However, it’s not impossible to maintain an active social life while suffering from pain if you keep the five antidotes to isolation and loneliness below in mind.
Don’t Cut Yourself Off
Here are some simple suggestions for being with others while taking care of your pain levels:
- Have a friend drive you wherever you’re going and ask them to be flexible about how long you stay. If they know you well, they may help you monitor your energy level. Leave before you’re exhausted, not after.
- Find social activities that don’t tax your body, and let others wait on you. For example, plan a movie night at your home and ask your friends to organize the food and movie and to clean up after.
- Tone down the volume and visit quiet places. Choose to go with a friend who understands your limitations and is willing to leave as soon as you give the signal. Such places include bookstores, museums, art galleries and quiet cafés.
- If you have the energy, start a group for people who suffer from chronic pain and arrange to meet for an hour at a local café to just talk and share a cup of tea or coffee. Or research online to see if there are any existing groups in your area.
- Look for talks or music events at your local library or coffeehouse that offer something interesting but won’t tax you as much as a large, noisy venue.
Organize Regular Visits
Your friends will usually feel good about having a clear way to help and to keep a connection with you. Let them know what you’re capable of in terms of length of time and any activities you can participate in, or if you just want to chat.
Ideas for simple activities with friends might include reading aloud installments of a novel by your favorite author, working on a jigsaw puzzle or crossword together, playing cards, discussing events at work or in the neighborhood, sharing a home-cooked meal, watching a movie, posting updates on social media or listening to music.
If your friends ask if there’s anything they can do to help while they’re there, say yes! Have a list of small tasks they can choose from. These tasks could include quick cleaning (wiping kitchen counters, dusting or vacuuming a room); making a light meal; doing some shopping or laundry; picking up prescriptions; helping you read and fill out forms; answering emails or making phone calls for you; or doing research on your condition on the internet. More energetic friends can scrub your bathtub, mop floors or cook full meals to freeze for later use.
Use Nature's Solace
I listen to the breeze, to the birds, to the creaking woods, to the rustle of small animals, to my breath. I find it very calming, and it reminds me that I’m still alive and that life is still all around me in all its forms, no matter how my body feels. When I can, I arrange to meet a friend who doesn’t mind walking slowly and for a limited distance.
Practice Positive Presence
I decided that, even though I couldn’t stop the physical discomfort I was in, I didn’t have to withdraw from others completely. When I did interact with others, it was always through the pain and seemingly from a distance created by that pain. But I decided that, even though I couldn’t stop the physical discomfort I was in, I didn’t have to withdraw from others completely. I could be present in my life despite the pain.
I began to initiate small conversations with other people in line at the coffee shop or grocery store, with checkout people and neighbors. The conversations were necessarily brief, but I made a practice of making them as sincere as I could. I found it made me feel better to smile more, and it made people around me feel better, too.
When I’m with my son, instead of noticing how much pain I’m in, what I can’t do and how tired I am, I try to focus on him. I focus on being very present with him. I laugh more. I try to be very there when I interact with others, and in that way I’m more available to people around me, if only briefly.
Through this practice, I’ve noticed that I can still have a positive effect on others, even when I feel like hell. It’s a challenge because of the pain and because of the sense of distance pain creates, as if you’re talking through a fog, but it helps. These things can shift my feelings of loneliness and isolation. I’ve found that I don’t have to be healed or pain-free to find ways to remain part of the life going on around me.
Find Online Communities
Connecting online with others in a similar situation can help you feel not quite so isolated and alone. You may not be able to meet them in person, but knowing they're out there can itself be very comforting. And with an online community, you can choose how much you wish to interact and when.
An example of an excellent online community for chronic pain and chronic illness is The Mighty. There are also many Facebook groups that are specific to certain conditions where you can ask questions, share stories, get advice, find out about resources, and offer a helping hand to someone else.
Summary of the 5 Antidotes to Isolation
- Don’t cut yourself off.
- Organize regular visits.
- Use nature’s solace.
- Practice positive presence.
- Find online communities