If you have an invisible illness, you may feel lonely for many reasons. You can be surrounded by friends and family who simply don’t understand what you’re going through, or perhaps your family and friends have abandoned you during your time of need.
No matter what the case, your feelings are real. To help you cope with these feelings, here are 10 ways to overcome your loneliness when living with a chronic illness:
1. Understand that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact
Loneliness is an emotion that doesn't follow rules the way it might if it were tangible. In fact, loneliness distorts the perception of our relationships and of ourselves.
Coping with any chronic illness is a challenge, and when your symptoms are invisible, the feeling that no one understands can be isolating. You may feel as though you have to deal with the emotional challenges on your own, or even that you have to prove the pain you are experiencing for it to be legitimate.
But this is not true; your loneliness is playing tricks with your mind. You aren't alone. The pain you're experiencing is real, and your feelings are valid.
2. Make a plan to get support
Climbing out of a depression and the orbit of loneliness can be a challenging exercise in perseverance, but with a plan, you can make it.
Often, getting started on an activity is the hardest part, so before you do anything else, make a strategy for yourself. The more specific you can be the better. Studies show that setting a plan, and putting it to paper, can make you 2x to 3x more likely to follow through.
Pick out an awesome new calendar or use an online planner (whatever works best for you), and figure what kind of support schedule you could commit to.
3. Journal your feelings
Grab a pen and a pad, a laptop, or a voice recorder and be honest with deepest, darkest feelings and your hopes.
When you have an invisible disease, especially an autoimmune disease, you can sometimes feel like a stranger in your own body. Journaling is a great way to recenter your sense of self, and can be a great first step in being comfortable opening up to others.
Not only can journaling improve your health in a multitude of ways, but it can also help to alleviate loneliness. MyCounterpane can help with this, as you can track your journey.
4. Talk to a professional
We've all heard that seeking professional guidance can help improve our emotional state of being and alleviate loneliness, but few know that speaking to a medical professional does more than just make you feel better. In this NPR interview , scientist and journalist Jo Marchant explains how just feeling cared for can have a more tangible impact on your health than you might think.
Ultimately, doing something about the loneliness makes us feel less afraid of the loneliness and more likely to be able to confront and overcome it
5. Surround yourself with positive people and things
When you feel lonely, it can seem like the whole world is shades of gray. It can be hard to imagine that life could ever be in full color. Being positive doesn't always mean that everything is rainbows. Sometimes focusing on the positivity when you are lonely is about finding that one cloud that's just a little less gray than all the others.
One way to do this is to find joy in the simple things. Have you watched that funny video on Facebook 15 times already? Why not go for 16! Do you like to literally stop and smell the roses? You stop and smell that rose! Do cute little puppies make you warm inside? Hang a photo on the wall of cute little puppies. Or tape it. Whatever works.
6. Talk to trusted friends and family
It's hard to over-exaggerate the power of supportive friends and family. They know you; they can provide a unique form of support that stems from trust, love, and closeness. When you are feeling lonely, it is often a natural reaction to reach out to a loved one. If you get this urge, we encourage you to follow it.
Let yourself lean on the people who love you for support. Accept their shoulder to cry on. Allow them to distract you with laughter and a friendly ear. You don't always need to pour your heart out- often times a casual conversation and a hug is enough to remind you aren't alone.
7. Find a community
... And sometimes the support you need can only come from a stranger. While some might it find it intimidating opening up to people they don't yet know, we find that it actually allows individuals to share their feelings with a significantly lower level of vulnerability. It gives you the chance to talk to a group of people that not only have no expectations of you, but also intimately understand what you are going through, and whats more, have gone through or are currently going through it themselves.
In this position, the most important thing is to find a community that will be supportive and welcoming. MyCounterpane is one such community that brings people together from around the world with one single goal: to express your emotions and connect with people who feel the same way.
8. Plan a social activity (even if you don’t feel like it)
In an unfortunate twist of irony, socializing with others can seem like a very daunting task when you are lonely, but often times it's the very thing we need.
In addition to social interaction helping to alleviate loneliness, there are neurological reasons why staying active helps you feel better. According to Marchant, the brain has a limited capacity for attention. That means doing something reduces your ability to feel pain, both physically and emotionally.
9. Reward Yourself
Putting yourself in a vulnerable position and seeking help can be incredibly difficult, and when you accomplish something that's difficult, it's important to reward yourself. No matter how far you got in the healing process, you deserve to feel proud, even if it is a small triumph.
Reward yourself by indulging in something you love. Want to curl up on the couch and reach a book? Treat yo' self. Had your eye on a new purse for a while? Treat yo' self. Want a big heaping spoonful of peanut butter? Treat. Yo'. Self.
10. Be Brave
Living with an invisible illness isn't easy. Venturing outside of your comfort zone isn't easy. Confronting you loneliness isn't easy.
None of this is easy, not by a long shot. But it is worth the effort. You are worth the effort.
Remember that when embarking on new challenges, starting is often the hardest part; fear of the thing is almost always worse than the thing itself. So find something that motivates you, that drives you to get better, and hold onto it. Be brave for your own sake, and know that you have support whenever you are ready to reach out for it.
How have you overcome loneliness? Empower yourself and others by sharing your story below. To what others have said, click here.