The link between illness and loneliness
Rarely, I read an article whose words jump off the pages of the magazine and into my heart where their existence stays and haunts me, forcing me to explore the matter deeper.
Last night was one of those rare instances. While reading a magaizne, I came across an article that I have not been able to get off my mind. So much so, that I ripped it out and placed it on my bedside table. The article presents the notion that loneliness causes illness and backs the idea with fascinating -and for someone like me, anxiety filled- factual scientific evidence of all the ways in which loneliness can in fact lead to illness, which I will briefly discuss below. So, why did this article have so much power over me? Because, I realized there was a major problem with it, not in regards to how it was written as I believe it was beautifully written, but because it missed the entire other side of the issue, the alarming one faced by you and I, assuming you also have Lyme or another illness that renders you isolated most of the time. Illness leaves many of us isolated, and we often feel abandoned by society, and therefore quite lonely at the same time. So, if illness causes loneliness, and loneliness causes illness, those of us who are lonely because we are ill are in quite the predicament. Is our illness then, in itself, making us sicker? Maybe, maybe not. Personally, I do not feel it is a lost cause, given we acknowledge the situation at face value and find ways to be alone without being lonely.
The article touched on the profoundly powerful effects of social interaction. Simply put, social interaction leads to healthier, happier and longer lives. On the other hand, loneliness leads to just the opposite. Apparently, individuals with strong ties to family, friends, and coworkers are endowed with health benefits such as fewer colds, less stress, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and improved cognition -all of which i individuals with Lyme disease have as a direct effect of the disease itself to begin with. Furthermore, he claims that those with strong social connections “have a 50 percent greater chance of outliving those with fewer social connections.” That is an alarmingly high rate for us, considering our longevity is already threatened by disease -a disease which causes loneliness, which in itself seems to be its own disease. So, if both are working against us, what can we do?
Most of us spend the majority of our time within the same four walls for months, years, even decades on end. As a result, it seems we either go in one of two directions due to this: either we come to enjoy and prefer solitude, or we pine for human interaction which is quite difficult to achieve when our mental and physical stamina often times barely provide us with enough fuel to get water or go to the restroom. Of course, those are two extremes. Many of us are in the middle ground, if not most, as we are human. Even if we come to prefer solitude, we have moments where we miss feeling as if we are part of a community. It is human nature to desire interaction with others. Just the same, if we are always sad over being lonely, we still have moments where we find ourselves quite enjoying the aspects of solitude.
Personally, I came to enjoy solitude so incredibly much that by the time I reached remission I much preferred it. Staying home to read or write on a Friday night sounded much more enjoyable than going out with “friends” who hardly visited me while I was sick. This in itself is also unhealthy, and it is still something I am battling. Because by the time we regain our health, we are entirely new people. After countless hours spent in isolation, we become unconditioned by society -something that many try to achieve, but that is forced up individuals like us. So, when we are finally able to rejoin society, we do not feel as if we fit in. We find that even when surrounded by others, there is a part of us that will always be alone, that will always be different, and that could never be understood by the average person. At first, I harbored much frustration over this fact, but I have since learned to view it as something beautiful rather than tragic. But, how do we tackle this problem?
How do we prevent loneliness as a means to prevent further illness, when we already have an illness which promotes loneliness?
As Franz Kafka, an author whose life was filled with solitude and pain, so eloquently stated, “each of us has his own way of emerging from the underworld, mine is by writing.” He could not have been more correct. I believe channeling our trials and tribulations into creativity, whether it be writing or painting or any other hobby, is the key to preventing the severity of the loneliness we feel while we are alone. When lost in the creative process of whatever activity our souls are drawn to we connect with something at a deeper level than we, in many ways, have ever connected with another human being. Turning our darkness into light through some form of creativity is often an efficient avenue to help us be alone without being lonely. Still, one size does not fit all, which is that this does not entirely prevent us from ever experiencing feelings of loneliness.
What are some good ways to connect with others while we are bedridden or home-bound the majority of the time?