Thursday, December 5, 2019
Balancing Chronic Illness and Socializing
Belongingness is a hierarchical, psychological need and socializing is an important part of that for everyone regardless of health. But that doesn't mean we have to be in a near constant state of socializing with others, does it?
I'm a bit of an introvert myself so I need time to myself to recharge after extensive socialization and on top of that, I don't feel well a lot of the time due to my chronic illness. Additionally, in order to support myself my priority is maintaining full time employment. To do so, this requires my constant attention to my health needs so that I may recover from the last week of work so that I may work the next week. It is an ever-present cycle of care that I must balance and protect for my livelihood.
My work as a social worker involves talking to chronically ill patients all day long 5 days a week. Between providing care to my patients and maintaining my relationships with my co-workers, I'm often exhausted upon my return home and I don't necessarily want to socialize with anyone else. I want to recover from the day. I am emotionally and physically drained by this near daily ritual that is employment. And if I am going to socialize on most days, I prefer messaging versus verbal communication except on rare occasions and of course during in-person interactions. I'm also not one for spontaneous social activities - I like to plan ahead so that I may prepare myself to be able to attend and participate as well as I possibly can. The unpredictable nature of chronic illness does not always allow for activities or socialization even with the best intentioned plans.
Balancing a social life and chronic illness is a common struggle. Too little socialization fosters isolation and depression but too much socialization drains us of our reserves to maintain our physical health. We often pay the following day or days after extending ourselves beyond our physical limits. An occurrence we often push ourselves to do on particularly good health days as we want to leave our homes, our routines, and rejoin the world and our loved ones in activity and socialization. Thus, it is far too easy to isolate ourselves away but then the double edge sword of trying to protect our physical health can also cause damage to our mental health at the same time. Maintaining friendships amidst chronic illness can be quite the challenge as well.
My best relationships with others, platonic or romantic, are those with individuals who not only take an interest in understanding and respecting my daily health struggles but also do not take my at times lack of presence personally. I don't require nor desire constant communication and because of my health, I am not always the most reliable for being able to keep scheduled activities. Even if that activity may be a friend coming to my home while I lie in bed in my pjs, that doesn't mean I will physically feel up to a visit even in the most conducive of situations for my health. Sometimes I feel more comfortable being along than in the presence of others.
Nevertheless, in spite of all the challenges and personal preferences, socialization is important for our well-being. Fortunately, with today's technology it is easier and faster to be able to communicate with others than it has ever been before. In person socialization can't be replaced but we can still develop meaningful, deep friendships with others through the phone and social media. We can receive and give comfort to others through these interactions as well. It may not be the same as the physical touch and care of another but it is not something to be dismissed either. Regardless the format, we must continually strive to balance our social needs and our health needs for the best outcomes for ourselves.
This is my life with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis and Short Bowel Syndrome. I was diagnosed with FAP as a child, underwent total colectomy at age 9. I experienced life threatening complications resulting in 4 more surgeries that year and developing medical PTSD. I had an ileostomy for 6 years before having it reversed into a straight pull-thru that also resulted in life threatening complications requiring an additional surgery the following year. In 2021, I required my 8th surgery to remove my gall bladder due to gall stones and FAP. This surgery exacerbated my, at the time undiagnosed, Abdominal Migraine which is now being treated.