Chronic Illness, Writing

Lesson 7: Be with People

I don’t know whether I’m an introvert, an extrovert, an introverted extrovert, or an extroverted introvert.

I’ve taken those online quizzes before. They haven’t helped.

I do know this: being around people is necessary for me. Sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it’s wonderful, and sometimes it’s both of those things.

Before I started getting sick, all I really had to do was make a little effort to be with other people. Family, friends, strangers at a coffee shop. I enjoyed my alone time, since I’m a creative and productive person, but I also loved parties, group meals, and outdoor buddies.

With a chronic illness, things got much more difficult.

I was bowing out of social events, cancelling trips, and not leaving the house much after 7pm. Or not at all. I started losing touch with friends who worked during the day and went out during the evenings. There are still activities that I simply can’t participate in—hiking, drinking, and most types of physical exertion.

It became hard to schedule anything because I never knew how I’d feel from one day to the next. When a flare-up hit, I still wanted companionship, but I didn’t want to drag anyone down or overextend myself.

I broodily identified with The Arcade Fire lyrics: “I would rather be alone/ Than pretend I feel alright.”

This past winter I noticed how much the loneliness was affecting me. I realized that there were other people like me who were already in my circle of friends—people with chronic illnesses who needed flexible hangouts and other friends with non-traditional work schedules.

I reached out, and began cobbling together bits and pieces of social time. I lowered my expectations for what counted as “real” social time. I started doing video hangouts, inviting people over to do work during the day, and asking people for help with things.

My health has improved slightly over the past few months, and I’ve been able to be around people more often.

I can’t be sure that social interaction has helped my chronic illness, but there’s plenty of science to demonstrate the impact of positive relationships on overall mental and physical health.

Each time I come away from a social gathering, a phone chat, or a meeting with someone I’m working with, I realize how much I need to be around people.

Sometimes I come away feeling a bit physically drained, but if I’m careful I can make sure I’m getting more benefit than harm from my social time.

I’m probably more fortunate than many others with chronic illness or disabilities: I have a husband and a dog, family nearby, kind neighbors, friends who are understanding, and even a local support group for women like me. These are things I try not to take for granted.

If you’re able-bodied and you know someone who might feel isolated, reach out to them. It could mean a lot to them, and you’ll benefit from it, too.

children walking

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