In my experience, one of the most draining elements of living with any chronic illness is the hefty weight of isolation that comes with it. Like the pain of a stubbed toe or the pain of stepping on a Lego while barefoot, the pain of isolation can reduce the toughest individual to a puddle of tears. Of course, the difference is that the pain sparked by a Lego is temporary while loneliness can be much more resilient. Physical and emotional pain are both like throbbing thorns that pulse insistently. However, despite the fact that emotional pain can be as bad as physical pain, it is often overlooked.
Emotional symptoms like isolation, anxiety, or depression
The problem with emotional symptoms like isolation, anxiety, or depression is that they are invisible. Living with another invisible illness like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease makes isolation all the more challenging. The shards of my mental turmoil will jab into me and stab me, but I’ll never bleed. No scars or bumps or bruises will magically speckle my body. Instead, I’ll sit in my room looking as I have for the past few days or months, but feeling incredibly alone.
Where do you go when you feel incomplete and abandoned? Do you start from the outside, searching for a solution in your surroundings as you work your way inside, hoping to piece yourself together? Or do you start from the inside, holding yourself up and filling yourself up with questions? And what if you have all of the corner pieces, but none of the middle ones in life’s 1000 piece puzzle?
Connecting through online communities
There’s no missed connection section for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients seeking a match in the local paper. There’s no one-stop shop stocked with all the cures to all my problems. So instead, I turn to the online community, my friends, and family for connection. Though there are times when I still feel trapped my body and removed from my life, it helps to know that my experience is not uncommon.
Whether sharing a laugh over my misfortune with a friend over text or a tearful phone call with my mom, those who support me lift me out of pitfalls. They help stop me from cycling through negative feedback by inviting me to cycle through the park on a sunny day. The feeling of being alone is not altogether evil, in fact, it can be extremely valuable. I’m partial to spending a Friday night curled up in bed on a Netflix binge.
Feeling alone with IBD versus feeling isolated
There’s a difference between being alone and being isolated. Today, I accept solitude while embracing connections. I keep myself open by sharing my story and by being honest. I realize that I will not always be able to escape from my disease. Sometimes, I’ll be stuck and surrounded by pain and loneliness. But I know I can get through it, with a little help from my friends and a little help from cute animal GIFs. Finding happiness isn’t a competition or a race, it’s a stroll through the park with a gang of friends.
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