Loneliness...I've been pondering this particular problem that those of us labeled with a mental illness so often face. Everyone who has been diagnosed will agree that, getting a formal diagnosis brings with it a lot of losses. Some of those losses are, in part, due to the stigma and discrimination that each of us face as soon as we are diagnosed. And our losses might include the loss of friends, community respect, family members, a job, car, home, and so on.
These losses lead to other issues, and a common one is loneliness. As a result of being diagnosed, we start to feel less important or effective than others. We might feel like we're an outcast...that we're not like everyone else. Of course, as we find our personal recovery path, we learn that that this is not true. But many of us don't find that recovery path for a significant period of time. While we're trying to cope, we feel isolated, alone, "less" then the rest of the people around us...and many times lonely.
Loneliness is a very difficult battle for us. We often lose our confidence due to the losses that we experienced as a result of being diagnosed with and illness. Many of the people in our lives do not know what to do or how to help us. As a result, sometimes they avoid us...not realizing that this is the time, after getting the diagnosis, that we need people more than ever.
As a person who's been dealing with a diagnosed major mental illness for over 25 years--and as someone who also battles the feelings of loneliness daily-I want us to work together to find possible solutions. The one path I've found helpful is to be very active in the mutual support groups in my area. That's a place for me to go and meet people who understand the challenges of the illness...and the stigma and discrimination. In a support group you're not judged or told harmful things. Instead, you meet people and start to form relationships out of the common understanding that we're all trying to find how to get well and what works and what doesn't work.
At first, it's hard to reach out to a fellow support group member. But that gets easier and easier as time goes on. I've also found that, as participants see someone coming back regularly, they're more willing to reach out and make that first connection that can be so hard for us. In my own group, after attending regularly for three months, I was out having coffee with many of the attendees...laughing and not feeling so alone. A few months after that, I went to a movie with some peers from the support group. Finally, I was finding that I wasn't feeling as lonely as I had before I started going.
This is one of the things that's worked for me in the struggle with loneliness. What I want to hear is what helps, or helped, you, so that we can keep this discussion going...so that we can help others who feel lonely and isolated. It's so important to help others learn how to replace those feelings with feelings of inclusion and friendship...being part of our own community.
Will you please share with me-and other readers-one or two ways that you cope with, and address, loneliness? It'll take just a few minutes, and you'll be helping others who find themselves painfully withdrawn from their environment.
Thank you for being part of this important discussion. It means so much to me, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Published On: March 04, 2009
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