Connecting to Others in an age of Isolation (endo + otherwise)
I remember when I was a kid and the cell phone hadn’t yet been invented (omg I’m old)
In fact, I didn’t get my own cell phone until I went to college, and I didn’t even text until much later (not because it didn’t exist, I just didn’t understand why you’d text when you could call someone). We only got a computer in our house when I was around 6, something that my brother and I thought was the coolest thing ever… even though all it really did was word process. I remember signing on to Facebook for the first time when I was 20, only in order to keep up with friends while I lived abroad.
Less technology left lots of time in my life for real socialization. When I was a kid we went outside and played with other neighbor kids every afternoon after school. My parents always took us to barbecues with other family friends on the weekends. In middle school I looked like Little Miss Sunshine, but no one cyber bullied me (in fact, I think we were all still kids in middle school back then, nowadays I swear middle schoolers walked straight off the catwalk). High school, college, and years after were so full of friends, laughter, and adventures I couldn’t imagine substituting out for creating a “perfect” social media profile.
My oh my how the world has changed — so quickly and for all of us! When I recently started tuning in to my newly acquired tech skills and how they were really impacting my life I had quite the blow. I would do things like spend an hour texting back and forth with a friend instead of simply meeting up, maybe chatted over coffee or a walk. Instead of going to a movie premier and meeting the awesome individuals who made it, I would stay home and Netflix something. I offended my husband numerous times by paying more attention to my email than allowing him to tell me about his day, and he certainly offended me in the same way. Not to mention I wasted hours each week on Instagram. I thought I was so connected to everything going on but…. I wasn’t. It was all a sparkly facade because I wasn’t really hanging out with people, I wasn’t having as much fun, we weren’t directly supporting each other, loving one another, eating together, joking together. We seemed to have created text-avatars of our previous selves.
In a world where we’re more connected than ever, many of us might say they’ve never felt so alone.
Endometriosis: Feeling along in a crowded room
I had to start with technology because it's so pervasive. It affects everyone, and many people feel isolated because of that aspect alone. Endometriosis is a whole other matter, one that's so incredibly isolating that the loneliness becomes just as much of the chronic illness experience as the physical symptoms themselves. Pain is a symptom you cannot share with the world but myst bear the burden yourself, and it's nature is to make you turn inward to deal with it. When pain's chronic, with no end in site, it is purely exhausting, leaving no extra energy stores to fulfill social quotas.
What I learned around the middle of my endo battle (right in the thick of things) was how much I had retreated from my friends. For a while I kind of grouchily placed blame on them for not reaching out enough, but as time passed I realized I was just as much to blame for not making the effort. What were they supposed to think when I turned down every invitation to hang out? In that realization, I made a new concerted effort to be more giving of myself. It had been so easy to retreat into my pain - and in to my head - that I forgot I could still have friends and a social life, even if my activities were more limited than my ridiculously active friends. Maybe I couldn't run (I can again now, btw!) or sometimes even walk, but I could watch movies, play games, lay in the sun, garden, and cook lots of food.
Another important step in reconnecting is learning to better express your situation to your closest friends and family. If you're like most people, you probably want to seem brave and like "everything's fine", even when it's not. That in itself can be exhausting, and when you feel like you're putting on an act you immediately put the breaks on real, human connection. When you find your voice and better learn to communicate your situation you will find your friends and family genuinely care, the won't think you're telling some sob story. You can let them know that some days you're in pain and can't do much, some days your totally fine. They won't understand which day is which unless you tell them, and they'll appreciate your willingness to keep them in the loop. They're your friends after all!
Reconnecting to Loved-ones while dealing with Chronic-Illness in a Fast-Paced World
Not as hard as you may think :) Remember, you become an expert at what you practice, so if you've practiced hermitage for the past few years this may seem, ummmm, challenging. If you're naturally introverted even more so, but you don't have to be the life of the party to start rekindling your social life. With even the smallest bits of outreach your connection-confidence will grow until it's back in full force, in whatever way makes you most happy. Here are a few ideas of how to reconnect:
Start by Picking your Favorite Connection Activity
Everyone likes to connect in different ways, so pick your favorite - be like Nike, and Just Do It. This could be as simple as calling your mom on Saturday, playing cards with your grandparents, going to coffee with friends, or adding weekly family hikes in. Keep it simple, and simply connect.
Share Family Meals
My mom runs on Non Profit here on Kaua`i (KPAA) and one of their programs is called Share Family Meals. It educates families on the importance of eating one meal a day together, and it doesn’ t even need to be healthy. The real goal is to help families reconnect, and the outcomes of this simple activity are higher test scores, better school performance, and increased self esteem. The one rule is: no phones, TV, or other distractions. For professionals this could also mean “do lunch” regularly with friends rather than working through at your desk. The main take away is break bread together, regularly, without phones.
Ditch the Mean Girls
If you have friends that seem to drain the life out of the room it’s okay to kindly part ways. The only way to make room for meaningful relationships is to get rid of the ones that are bringing you down.
Find your Tribe
I know a lot of people who go to church, synagogue, or mosque for more than spiritual connections. It’s because people who believe together, stay together, through good times and bad. But you don’t have to be religious, you can get the same benefits from joining a club like Surfrider and connecting with like-minded individuals over beach clean ups, or start your own Hiking Club amongst your friends and commune with nature and people at the same time. Find a club or business based on an activity you like and meet people with a common interest.
Make Technology Beneficial
No matter how much technology has disconnected us, it’s still an amazing asset to re-connect with! If you have a spare 5 minutes you can email an elderly relative who would, I promise, be absolutely touched to be remembered. You can send little hello’s via email, text, or, hey, why not even just call?? ;) Think of all your cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends from school you haven't talked to in, like, forever. Go ahead, reach out with some funny memory and see an old connection come back alive.
Don’t forget about your Co-workers
If you feel isolated at work, chance are you’re not alone. Why not turn your office (or class, or dorm) into a place of camaraderie? I read about one woman who brought in ice cream to her office and sent out a quick memo to everyone: Ice Cream Social in 5 minutes. Everyone came, and everyone connected. They even made it a weekly thing.
Learn Some Family History
Learning about your family history will help connect you to those that came before, and those still living. Ask relatives about your family story, about their own grandparents, about stories you may never have heard. Our elders are the connection from past to present, imagine if you have a 90 year old grandma, and she was connected to her own 90 year old grandma when she was young, then her living memory spans 180 years back! Not only will you find out more about history, but you'll also get closer to those you talk to.
Get a Pet
I wanted to say dog, but I understand not everyone loves dogs like me ;) No but really, if you have a hard time connecting with people, or you simply want more love in our life, it’s high time to get a pet. They will love you, you will love them, and man that love is pure. Nuff said.
Get to know your Neighbors
When I moved to California I never really got to know my neighbors. Everyone in our neighborhood kind of kept to themselves, which I now think is totally weird. If you’re in the same boat, try reaching out! Bake something and bring it next door, throw a block party bbq, offer to walk an older neighbors dog. You might be surprised how easy it is to crack the ice.
Turn Trivial Contact into Positive Contact
Working at a bar I’m amazed how easy it is to disarm people with kindness. Even the grouchiest people can be easily persuaded to smile back when you seem genuinely nice. And since you never know what people are dealing with in their own lives, make it a point to make positive contact throughout your day. Make eye contact and smile at strangers in the grocery store, make a silly joke to someone you’re standing in line with, say hi to people you pass on your walk. It ends up becoming a habit, and positive habits are great things to come by.
Re-kindle the ability to listen
In the lost art of conversation, the biggest void seems to be really listening. Social media allows everyone to voice their own opinions, feelings, and experiences 24/7 while scrolling mindlessly through others. Try to slow down and really listen to what people are sharing with you. Everyone on earth is living their own journey, and having someone to share it with is quite the gift! Be that person for others, and they in turn will be that person for you