Chronic pain hurts more than just your physical body. It gnaws at your soul and saps joy from your heart. It steals so much more than physical comfort. It can take your ability to participate in life. This is the unspoken side of chronic pain. When pain dominates your days and nights, you automatically decline invitations for outings with friends and family. You send gifts and well wishes to your niece’s wedding or friend’s birthday. Your major outings start to consist of going to doctor’s offices and maybe the grocery store. Soon, friends stop inviting you out and fade away. Even family you live with start to assume you won’t feel upto joining them for a trip to the movies, so they don’t even ask anymore. Before you know it, it’s just you and your pain. Sound familiar?
Loneliness and isolation are often a cocoon that wraps around you as you struggle with controlling your chronic pain. At first, they can even be comforting, but soon, they feed into the vicious cycle that is chronic pain. You don’t have to just accept it! With conscious effort and a good plan, you can break free from the shackles of loneliness and isolation. It won’t be easy. Any time you’re fighting to break the cycle, it takes work, but it is so worth the effort!
Tidy your space:
This is a great place to start. If you want to reconnect with people in your life, make the space around you inviting. If you’re surrounded by piles of magazines, discarded mail, or clutter,, how is anyone supposed to come in and sit down for a chat? Studies show that clutter and messiness contribute to fatigue and depression, which, of course, chronic pain contributes to as well. Take control of your space. Make it neat and inviting. You’ll be amazed at how good this one simple step can make you feel!
I know this one can super tough, but it is vital to your overall wellness. The Pathways app (update Aug 2023: Pathways is now a web app! Start our program here) is a great way to get started moving a little bit at a time. Movement will increase your energy which will make you feel like you can engage with the outside world. Start small and keep building!
For some people, pets are a great way to lift their mood, make them to think outside their own pain and situation, and have a nonjudgmental, ever-loving shoulder to cry on. Not everyone is a pet person, but for some people, getting a dog, cat, fish, or other critter can be a catalyst to a more active and full life. Be honest with yourself before you head to the pet store. Make sure you are physically and economically able to care for another creature.
Community support groups can be a fantastic way to share your story with others and connect with people who intimately understand your struggle. It also offers you an opportunity to help others by giving them support. Check online or with your doctor for groups in your area.
If there are no live support groups in your area, the internet has tons of groups that you can join. The internet can also offer other diversions such as classes and podcasts, games, and, of course, social media. A word of caution: the online world can be seductive. It can quickly and quietly replace reality. Being tied to a computer doesn’t encourage you to move or connect with the physical world around you. Remember, as with all things, balance is critical!
Host a night in:
So often the barrier to your participation in something is in the ‘going out’ component. Instead, why don’t you bring your friends and family to you. You don’t have to host a grand event. Just a small get together with even 1 person is fantastic. It’s alright to ask them to bring something. Most guests want to contribute! Keep it simple. By staying in your home where you can be comfortable and save your energy for interacting with your guests, you’ll be able to enjoy their company.
If you don’t already have a hobby, consider pursuing one. With online tutorials and the ability to have almost anything delivered to your doorstep, you can get into whatever strikes your fancy!
Spiritual, emotional, or mental inspiration comes in many forms. Maybe you once enjoyed going to church but can’t physically attend the service due to your pain. Reach out to your clergy. They might allow a friend to record the session or even stream it live to you. Of course, the internet is a rich resource for all types of inspirational offerings. Look for a blog or app that entertains and enlightens you. Check out a podcast or online class that educates you. You’ll be comforted and energized by the messages you hear.
I think the hardest part of beating isolation and loneliness is taking the first step. Once you start, you’ll build momentum and things will just keep going from there. Here are a few things to think about to help you get started:
- Do small things. Set a timer for a short time (something less than 30 minutes) and concentrate on giving it your all for that amount of time. Rest after that and try again later.
- One thing at a time. Don’t try to take on the world all in one day.
- Write down a plan. Don’t be content with “I’ll do that later.” Later has a funny way of never showing up.
- Ask for help. Reach out to a friend or family member and let them know what you’re trying to do. If you share your plan, you’re more likely to complete it.
You don’t have to let chronic pain steal your happiness. Make the commitment to yourself to take back your joy. No one can do it for you, but there are likely many people who are ready, willing, and able to help. Use your resources, make a plan, and take the first step today!