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, COVID-19 forced millions of people to stay home and self-isolate. I found myself in a rather strange position.
Since diagnosis, my health 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
Perhaps 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 could finally access almost every form of entertainment available to a non-disabled person. 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 realization 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.
Many people 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. Hopefully, they'll help 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 some time outdoors (even sitting in the garden for 10 minutes can help). If the weather or mobility issues mean walking isn't possible, 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. A live chat is much more satisfying than a phone call.
Arrange a virtual coffee meeting or an online gaming session. 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, search for people in your local area who are happy to do a grocery shop or chat over the phone.
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 get 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?
Would you like to try weaving, crocheting, painting, armchair exercise, or art appreciation?
5. Build in some quiet time
Life's quieter periods are the only times we can think undisturbed. Even if chronic illness limits your access to the world, there are 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 sit quietly and allow your brain to rest. 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 how my health had completely altered my perspective on life. 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.
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition. Please consult with a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.
NPS-ALL-NP-00783 JANUARY 2023