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.