Sometimes, recovering from illness or protecting our health means a period of self-isolation. Barbara Stensland gives 6 tips for staying afloat during these times.
For many of us, our first experience of self-isolation was during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, self-isolation wasn't new for some people with chronic conditions. Many, for example, may have faced such loneliness when recovering from a comorbid illness or a flare-up.
For others, symptoms of depression and anxiety may have directly or indirectly caused a period of social quarantine.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) almost a decade ago, Barbara Stensland has experienced many periods of self-isolation and loneliness due to her health.
Today, Barbara offers six tips for staying afloat during health recovery or quarantine.
When I was first diagnosed with MS, one of the biggest challenges was learning to adapt to spending a whole lot more time at home.
Fatigue, endless relapses and a newly-uncertain world conspired to keep me within my own four walls for extended periods. Life as I knew it changed forever. I witnessed the world going on outside my window and a little piece of me faded.
Then, in 2020 and 2021 (and, for many of us, the situation is far from over), COVID-19 forced millions of people to stay home and self-isolate. I found myself in a rather strange position.
Since diagnosis, MS has necessitated periods of withdrawal for my recovery. So, when COVID came along, I was heralded as my friends' go-to expert for coping during the loneliness of lockdown!
Isolation is no stranger to those with chronic illnesses. Suddenly, the whole world had a taste of our frequent reality
But I also thought that learning to work, live, and thrive at home may benefit everyone long-term. Especially those with disabilities. A chronic condition can make it exhausting to schlep to and navigate the workplace.
Of course, many employers make reasonable adjustments for workers with disabilities. However, the opportunity to work from home full-time is rarely granted.
Likewise, the “entertainment biz" had to find ways to make their services available. After all, it was that or risk mass-shutting their businesses. So, thanks to digital technology, people with disabilities were able to access almost every form of entertainment a non-disabled person could. Bliss!
For those without disabilities, many learned what it's like to live with a chronic condition. The difficulty of staying connected with friends and family beyond a telephone call. Not being able to take a walk whenever you wanted. The loneliness of being confined within the same four walls day in and day out during flare-ups.
For a while, the world felt like a more empathetic place
Of course, I wouldn’t wish isolation on anybody. But, as it is the daily reality for many of us "invisible" ones (people with disabilities confined for days, weeks, or months indoors due to their illness), it was comforting to see realisation dawning within the larger population. Like, "Oh, this is what X feels like when they get another chest infection!"
Sometimes, sudden, unavoidable change is more effective than years of campaigning and trying to spread awareness.
The world changed again, but many with chronic illnesses still face periods of loneliness and seclusion
We're not in lockdown now, and much of the population can access the outside world "normally" again. People with disabilities no longer have the comfort of the national "all in this together" camaraderie.
But while we with chronic conditions may still have to face periods of self-isolation, it doesn't mean we have to resign ourselves to total misery. Trying to physically recover while your mental health stagnates or worsens is never an ideal solution.
So, today, I have put together six tips for bearing the loneliness of unavoidable social quarantine. I hope they help to keep you happy and safe during difficult times with your health.
6 ways to stay afloat when ill health keeps you at home
1. Create a routine
When I was first diagnosed with MS, I discovered I was no longer a night owl.
My energy spiked in the morning, so I got out of bed earlier, started work earlier and rested in the afternoons. Think about how you can cope best with your condition and devise a new daily plan.
Factor in work (if you do), relaxation, and a little time spent outside (even sitting in the garden for 10 minutes can help). If it's too cold or mobility issues mean a brisk walk is off the table, nature-watching through a window can work some mental health magic.
2. Stay connected
If you can, or have someone who can help you, keep using the live chat technology we used so much during COVID-19. I find a live chat much more satisfying than a phone call.
Maybe arrange to have a virtual coffee together or play a game online. If that is impossible, make as many phone calls as you can. It's honestly healthy to offload and talk about how you're feeling!
If you need help, you could search for people in your local area who are happy to do a grocery shop or chat over the phone. The Nextdoor app is a great way to reach out to people in your neighbourhood.
3. Use media and social media sensibly
Try not to terror-scroll – turn off that rolling news channel and mute your social networks.
Instead, limit yourself to a daily catch-up and sign up for news alerts. This way, you'll stay informed yet avoid endless waves of bad news.
4. Use the time to learn something new
The COVID-hobbies craze is over, but cultivating a new hobby has been a universal pastime for centuries.
Thousands of companies offer new ways to learn something you might not have thought about before.
Always wanted to learn Norwegian? Yup, that’s me! Why not sign up for lessons?
Maybe you'd like to try weaving, crocheting, painting, armchair exercise or art appreciation?
5. Build in some quiet time
The quieter periods in life are the only times some of us can think undisturbed. Even if chronic illness limits your access to the world, there are still so many daily expectations to deal with.
Take this time to think about yourself, what you want, and how you could achieve that (with or without help).
You will get through this. Try to take time to connect with nature. Simple meditation exercises can help, or just sit quietly and allow your brain to rest for a while. Recovering from a flare-up can wipe me out physically and emotionally – even if it looks like I’m not up to much.
6. Practice gratitude for the little things life brings
Thankfulness is a huge theme for me. I remember telling a friend shortly after I was diagnosed with MS how my life had completely altered. I now appreciate the tiny things.
Watching a bird make a nest is one of the loveliest and most awe-inspiring things I've ever seen. Clouds are no longer "just clouds" but beautiful shapes and patterns. A kind email makes me really appreciate having that person in my life.
Once, a kind friend left a Victoria sponge outside my door. I will never, ever forget that.
Our world is frenetic. It's often busy, stressful, overwhelming, and scary. We're supposed to be constantly on the go and "doing something worthwhile."
Well, I say STOP and ask you to take a step back. Appreciating the things we already have forces us to find perspective. Sometimes, we get so preoccupied with the "next thing" we forget that life isn't meant to be a competition or a constant slog.
Nourishing your heart during your recovery will also help your body and mind. It is okay – no, commendable – to find deep joy in things the rest of the world has learned to ignore.
NPS-IE-NP-00541 October 2022