by Pamela Jessen, Contributing Writer
Having a chronic illness like Fibromyalgia can be a very isolating experience. Many of us used to work and found a lot of our social life revolved around our jobs, whether it was getting together with the gang after work for drinks or volunteering with a workgroup for a community project. Often, a best friend was made at our jobs whom we would hang out with more frequently, and those sorts of friendships became treasured relationships to us.
After you become chronically ill though, you often have to give up working, and those relationships no longer exist, not even with the "best friend" that you made. How do you handle the loneliness that comes from that? We tend to not go out a lot in the first place, because of pain and fatigue, so without a reason to get together with former co-workers, there's now more reason to isolate ourselves than ever. It's depressing to know that you're no longer "part of the gang" and that you don't fit in anymore. It's even more depressing to know that your former friends don't even realize that they've shut you out. It's just the natural progression of you no longer being at the job, and nothing personal.
But what happens when you try to reach out, to make plans, and people don't return calls? Or when people reach out to you, but you're unable to go, because their plans are too ambitious for you? I'd love to see people for coffee, but they always want to combine it with shopping followed by dinner and drinks afterwards, and that's too much of a day for me. Lunch and shopping, I can do that on a good day, but then I want to go home. And if it's a bad day, then I have to say no right from the start. And what happens if I start having too many bad days when friends want to get together? They stop calling, period. I am "too sick all the time" and no longer any fun to be with. It's easy to get depressed when this happens.
It's so frustrating when friends give up on you. I can't control my good and bad days. I have no idea when a good day is going to go bad. I can feel great in the morning and then start to go downhill by the early afternoon. I try to explain that to people, but they don't always understand how unpredictable Fibromyalgia can be. Sometimes it can change from hour to hour and even minute by minute. It's like going outside in changing weather and never being sure of how many layers you should wear. Will you be too hot, too cold or just right? And what do you do with all those layers if you don't need them?
There's also the other side of the coin though. What if your friends continue to invite you out, but you keep turning them down? Your reasons seem valid; you're in pain, it's too much of a hassle, the weather is too difficult, you're tired, or you just don't feel like it. It's easy to make excuses, but you also need to search the real reasons for saying no. Are the reasons you're giving valid? Or are you turning down invitations because of depression?
Signs to Watch Out For
How do you know if you're becoming depressed or socially isolated? Here are some signs to watch for:
If you recognize any of these symptoms, please see a doctor in order to be treated appropriately. If you want to be more socially active, but find your friends are not as available as they've been in the past, the following suggestions might be helpful for you:
Loneliness can be hard to deal with, but with the right understanding and support, you can overcome it. Make sure you're staying in touch with people and not isolating yourself, and reach out to others if your friends have stopped reaching out to you. It's okay to move forward and make new friends. Listen to your body and do what's right for you. If you're feeling up to it, go out and make new friendships through volunteer work or so social groups. If you need to take a break from socializing, that's fine. Just don't fade into the woodwork. Remember, your presence is valued no matter how much of it you are able to give at any time. You are loved. And as I always say...
There Is Always Hope!
Pamela Jessen Professional Bio
Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC, just outside of Victoria. She is happily married to her amazing husband Ray and they are proud parents of 2 grown kids and three wonderful grandsons. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at pamelajessen.com She also writes for The Mighty, The UnChargeables and various independent publications.
In addition to blogging, Pamela is an active volunteer with the Patient Voices Network in BC. Outside of PVN, she has also done volunteer work for Island Health as a Patient Advisor, was on the Advisory Committee for Opioid Guidelines in Canada, and was a summer volunteer with the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s Busker Festival.
Pamela currently sits on 4 different committees:
Additionally, she is a member of the BC Patient-Centred Measurement Blended Survey Consultation Group. She is passionate about Quality Improvement and seeks out continual educational opportunities to learn and grow.