“The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.”
– Mother Theresa
When you think of loneliness, a bright and sunny day is probably not the first scenario that comes to mind. Long, dark winter nights seem to represent those hollow feelings inside so much better.
And yet, summer time can be a lonely season for anyone who’s not able to fully participate in the festivities during these months, like the chronically ill. Family and friends are away on vacation and caregiving facilities can be closed down for summer or short on staff. This makes getting out and about and socializing even more challenging than usual if you have limited mobility.
And it’s not just about literally being alone and not having someone to talk to and hang out with. Loneliness also refers to feeling alone, like nobody understands what you’re going through. Like Carl Jung said, “loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you“. When you have a chronic or invisible illness, being lonely is often a combination of the two, a cruel mix of social isolation and not feeling heard. Because for the people in your life it can be hard to understand why you may not be able to do seemingly relaxing things like spending a day at the beach.
And during summer, the gorgeous weather and ecstatic Facebook updates about festivals, BBQ’s and exotic holiday destinations only seem to rub your nose in the fact that you’re stuck at home, not being able to join in on the fun.
So how can you deal with loneliness?
First of all, if reading about your friends ‘wild adventures’ makes you feel down or envious, do yourself a big favor and have a social media sabbatical. Next, when it comes to the emotional side of feeling left out, Carly from Living Brightly has written a thoughtful post on what you should do when FOMO is real.
But aside from not driving yourself crazy by comparing your life to others’ picture-perfect online lives and learning to accept the frustration and bittersweetness of living with chronic illness, there are some practical things you can do to overcome summertime loneliness:
1. Join in on the fun in a modified way
Ok, so maybe partying until the early morning hours is not an option for you. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stay at home every weekend. Depending on your health of course, you could meet up early with friends for drinks and a pre-party. Or you could only go out for two hours, but still bust some moves on the dance floor. Or maybe early-morning dance parties are just your thing! You get the idea – find a way to make whatever you’d love to do this summer doable and accessible. If that means renting a wheel chair or rallying your mates for an out-of-the-box idea to hang out, do it. The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.
2. Fulfill your underlying desires in a different manner
When you think of what you’d love to do this summer but can’t, which underlying desires are you trying to fulfill? Which emotions, feelings, sensations are you looking to experience?
Are you hungry for an adventure, a break from your every day routines? Do you long to relax on a beach and forget about your problems for a while? Or do you crave some fun times with your friends?
Obviously it would be amazing if you could go rock climbing or sipping cocktails in Bali or go to that one festival. But if you’re physically not able to tick off these items on your summer bucket list, ask yourself: How do I want my summer to feel? What can I do to satisfy that desire in a different way? For example:
- Looking for adventure? So maybe backpacking Europe, zip lining or wild water rafting are not in the cards for you this year. But you can bring a sense of excitement and novelty to your day to day life with mini adventures. Camp out in your own back yard, immerse yourself in a new culture by eating its cuisine and watching subtitled movies, or plan a surprise for your partner/best friend/mom.
- Longing for a beach holiday? Create a similar relaxing experience with your own spa day at home. Get up at sunrise to do yoga – even if it’s just one sun salutation or 5 minute meditation. Pamper yourself with a bubble bath, body brushing and a facial mask. Massage your feet and polish your nails with a bright colour. Finally, make yourself a tropical drink (kale colada anyone?) and sit in the sun (through the open window if you have no other choice) with an easy read.
- Wish you could go to that festival? Have one at home! The main part of what makes a festival great (besides the performances) is having an awesome time with your friends. So find a great spot to hang out, put on some good music and have a beer and a laugh together. Sure, it’s not the same as watching your favourite band live on stage, but socializing and having fun beats watching re-runs of Prison Break on Netflix, right?
3. Reach out
If you wish you had someone to talk to, don’t be shy about reaching out to old friends. Even if you haven’t heard from someone in a while, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be happy to hear from you – we all get caught up in the whirlwind of our own lives. A simple “hi, how have you been?” can open the door to rekindled friendships.
You could also try to meet new, like-minded people, even if you’re introverted or chronically ill. Join neighbourhood activities or visit a CreativeMornings breakfast lecture in your city. Sign up for a group exercise class designed for your condition or meet fellow spoonies through a patient group. You can also connect with people with similar interests online via forums, Facebook groups or Twitter hashtags.
And remember, you’re not the only one that feels alone sometimes. Maybe there are other (young) people with chronic illness in your neighborhood who’d love to connect. Maybe you could visit your elderly (grand)parents or find an (online) community with people who are in the same situation as you. If your health allows, you could join a volunteer project and bring a smile on a stranger’s face and yours.
4. Learn to be happy in solitude
Being alone does not have to equal feeling lonely. You can have a good time on your own.
It helps to keep yourself entertained. Not to run away from your feelings and bury the loneliness by staying busy, but because you deserve to have a fun summer too. And since getting too caught up in social media, browsing online or endlessly watching YouTube videos – the kind of activities that you probably fall back on if you’re sick, tired and stuck indoors – can increase feelings of depression and anxiety, you should make a list of fun things you can do at home when you’re bored.
What about a summer project, like signing up for an online drawing course and practicing your art every day? Or working your way through that recipe book that’s been collecting dust? You could also come up with solo date ideas for days when you’ll feel good enough to go out. Think of visiting the library or an art exhibition, treating yourself to an ice cream or going on a shopping spree. Whatever you fancy and is doable for you!
Hopefully these tips will give you some tools to have a lovely summer, no matter what your situation is. But whenever you do feel alone, remember this (paraphrased):
“A season of loneliness and isolation is when the caterpillar gets its wings.” – Mandy Hale
What helps you to deal with summertime loneliness?
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