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Isolation in Chronic Illness

Any chronic condition or disability, especially when resulting in physical pain and depression, can lead to lonely isolation. Depression and isolation are mutually perpetuating and one can get trapped in this cycle. Somewhere this cycle needs to be interrupted and broken through.

Illness is usually associated with an initial acute occurrence, such as when we get the ‘flu for example, a bacterial infection or when we sustain an injury. This interferes with our lives but with rest and therapy, the previous healthy state eventually returns. 

Relationship Isolation

Within a chronic condition, however, the continued disruption of one’s life is much harder to deal with, to understand and eventually accept. Immediately following initial symptoms and diagnoses, medical support and assistance are readily available   The chronic nature of your condition, however, makes you have to live with your symptoms long after the initial regular attention and help. 

Before the onset of your illness, you had a life marked by commitments, activities, and relationships.  People knew you prior to your diagnosis.  It can be very difficult to sustain these relationships because there remains the association with a known former self, but which has now slowly crumbled. And who you are now may not feel as equally important, to others and to yourself. 

Any dilemma that comes with the onset of chronic illness initially affects the sufferer but extends eventually to those around the ill person. Unintentionally, these people are forced to confront their own vulnerability and mortality. This can become quite uncomfortable and even intolerable. It is important to be open about and acknowledge all discomfort and pain before it becomes a source of avoidance, as such development will cause a withdrawal of others and indeed make the sufferer turn in upon himself.

Physical Isolation

Physical confinement, being housebound and being limited in working or attending an educational establishment cause direct isolation. Furthermore, you can’t expect others to remain interested in your repeated accounts of your ongoing trial. And you yourself might also feel that with mainly your treatment procedures, pain, and inner emotional turmoil, there isn’t much happening in your life worth communicating to others.  The result is that your social contacts will be reduced to visits to the doctor or therapist, which actually increases the focus on your condition.  In addition, having to constantly cancel invitations and reschedule plans due to the unpredictability, make you hardly ever take part any longer in activities you used to be able to do before your illness.

Unpredictability also makes you feel that you have no control at all anymore. Illness is fickle, with periods of remission and improved function, followed episodes of pain and fatigue. This may even play itself out in the course of one day. How to plan in this random state of affairs?

Emotional Withdrawal

It is often not appreciated that having an illness is very time-consuming. Everything that comes naturally to a healthy person, requires planning and effort from you. Your physical needs and daily hygiene take up a considerable part of your day and your energy. Simple domestic chores are equally more challenging.

Pacing, medications and/or ergonomic aids are the things you need, but they are also the things that make you different. They set you apart, because you yourself, and others, may judge yourself by standards used in a world that is able and healthy. Feeling that you no longer really belong to that world makes you retreat from it.


A desire to disassociate yourself from your condition with its symptoms and obligations could make you reluctant to reveal the extent of your physical ordeal to other people, until your pain or exhaustion forces you to admit the extent of your illness.

Right there, however, you are offered an opportunity to make a shift.  After all, is it not so that hiding a profound reality of your life is in itself an act of isolation? Is it not so that denying an important aspect of your identity denies others to get to know it? Rather than hiding the reality of your condition and thus isolating yourself, it could be more important to admit, reveal and accept this aspect of your identity. 

Certainly, some people may distance themselves, but you will find that there are those who won’t. This then can lead to honest communication and deepening relationships. It may help you to own your wholeness and make you realize that in spite of your ailments and limitations, or maybe precisely because of them, your life is as meaningful as that of another.

It has been suggested that no matter your condition or handicap, you are always a whole human being. For sure, you have changed in terms of previous abilities and options. And right here, right now, the world will just have to accept that, just as you have to accept that. In fact, you may find that the world is able to accept your changed life to the degree that you accept it. And part of that acceptance is you not hiding away.

Don’t underestimate your dormant strength. This may not be the life you expected, not the life you have chosen and certainly not the life you ever thought would be yours. But this, your life belongs to you. Not because you do not deserve any better, but because you are the only one in the whole world who can make something of it, and in so doing, fulfill your life purpose.

Your shadow is not there to give you darkness, but to enable you to find your light behind it.