For people living with a chronic disease, the stigma attached to it can be just as painful as the disease itself. Sadly, many people with ongoing physical or mental illness face a life of social isolation.
Sometimes this occurs because the disease forces you to abandon normal activities due to the fact that you just can’t physically engage with your surroundings like you used to do. Sometimes isolation occurs because your friends and family members don’t know how to cope with your disease or they don’t understand it, so they withdraw.
The risks of isolation
Either way, if you can’t nurture your relationships with others, they tend to get strained. And strain can feel especially confusing or isolating when you’re already coping with a chronic disease. According to an article in Imagine Life Therapy, “People with chronic illnesses often have to make choices for themselves that leave them more socially isolated, which is a risk factor for poor coping, depression, feelings of loneliness and anxiety.”
It happened to me
Speaking from my own personal life experiences, I know how hard it is to overcome social stigmas and emerge from the shadows with renewed health and strength. When my oldest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, my family’s world was forever changed. At that time, autism awareness was not as prevalent as it is today. Back then, as a first-time mom, it was easier for me to withdraw than to try to explain my son’s autism, which I didn’t even understand myself.
It happened again when I herniated my L5 a few years ago. All of my friendships came to screeching halt. I was no longer my upbeat, active self, and nobody knew how to react to the new me who was trapped in horrific physical pain. My life – as a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend and a business professional – was sidelined. I could feel myself tumbling downward again into a dark, lonely place.
A downward spiral
Those prickly feelings of isolation and loneliness can hurt you more than you think. In fact, they can make your chronic illness worse. Imagine Life Therapy also states, “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.”
How to overcome it
Obviously, adding depression to a chronic illness can be a huge obstacle in maintaining or regaining your physical health and mental wellbeing. The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself and admit you’re struggling. Then you must do something about it.
According to a recent article in The Globe and Mail, “What we focus on expands. If we focus on negativity, we become negative. If we focus on positivity, we can learn how to be happier. It doesn’t need to be complicated; it can be a choice. The sooner we learn this choice in life, the happier we can be.”
Recognize you need support
Yes, it can be incredibly hard to find happiness in the grips of a chronic disease, but there are proven methods of success you can follow to start feeling better. In my opinion, you need to share your feelings with a therapist, counselor or medical professional.
It’s hard to rely on friends and family members for help when you aren’t able to help yourself. Once you get stronger and can better identify and express your needs to the people who care about you, then your support system will be exactly what you need. In the meantime, consult with a professional who can get you started on a path towards healing.
Find people with similar struggles
Support groups are a great place to seek comfort and understanding from people who can fully appreciate your situation. Whether it’s in person or online, sharing your feelings, frustrations and fears with people who “get it” can be a life-changing experience. Even if you just join discussion groups, you’ll read stories that inspire you to take the next step towards healing, even if it’s a small one.
Quiet down your negative self-talker
During my dark days, I realized a lot of the negativity in my life was coming from the negative voice in my head. Whether it was mental or physical or both, I was hurting and my brain ran with my negative feelings and the doubts I had about myself and my future. Feed yourself positive messages. Smile at strangers. Try to be thankful for the good things.
Life with a chronic disease means you’ll always be shifting gears and re-prioritizing, but rising above the stigma can help bring you happiness and peace of mind along the way.
Have you overcome the stigma of a chronic disease? Let us know in the comments section.