The emotions surrounding socialization and chronic illness can be complicated. Feelings of loneliness, guilt, disconnection, the fear of abandonment, the fear of missing out and worries related to being labeled as irresponsible, disinterested, flaky, or unreliable are common problems for those with chronic illness. The physical and social limitations that result from illness often put chronic illness sufferers in a position where they are constantly saying no, cancelling plans or not even committing in the first place.
Because those of us with chronic illness are likely to (seemingly) regularly decline invitations to spend time with friends and family when we are ill, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy balance and routine when we are well. When we are feeling good, healthy or are in remission, it can feel difficult and even irresponsible not to push ourselves because of the “need” to catch up or make up for all the times we missed out or said no. These particular feelings of guilt, fear and over-compensation can lead to overcommitting, overexerting and potentially retriggering symptoms.
The act of preserving health, while it is present is just as important as taking care of yourself when you are not well and sometimes maintaining health means saying no BECAUSE you feel well. This shift in mindset is a key component in living a healthier life, both emotionally and physically. But slowing down and putting yourself first when you are feeling good might be one of the most difficult concepts to grapple with for someone living the chronic illness life BUT using appropriate coping skills (...keep reading) like leaning on the right support system, being kind, reassuring and soft with yourself, listening to your mind and body and being clear about priorities is an integral part of the process and is necessary for maintaining your efforts in the long run:
Say “No” and Say “Yes” Appropriately
Saying “no” and “yes” appropriately means making choices with healthy limitations. If you don’t feel up to something, are feeling overwhelmed, overcommitted or like you need a little TLC, say “no.” Similarly, if you feel up to something or are craving social connection, say “yes” (with limitations if necessary). Saying “yes” and saying “no” while maintaining health and social connection might mean setting limitations like showing up late, attending a only portion of an event or leaving early.
Show Up In Other Ways
Because social isolation (real or perceived) is a common problem for individuals with chronic illness, saying “no” can feel like self-sabotage. If a particular social event or obligation doesn’t feel right for you, find other ways to show up: Find ways to incorporate your friends and family into your self care practice and/or downtime, host friends at home, invite loved ones to join you for a more relaxing event/plan, send a thoughtful message or make a friendly phone call.
Be Honest and Clear
Being clear and open about your needs related to your chronic illness is an important part in maintaining your health. It’s safe to say that most people don’t/can’t fully understand the ins and outs of life with a chronic illness unless they too, live with chronic illness. In order to get what you need (and in order to minimize feelings of guilt related to the barriers of your illness), it’s essential to help the people in your life understand your needs both when you’re well and when you’re not. Saying things like “I need to focus on taking care of myself” or “I need to rest/slow down so that I can maintain my remission” are a great way to get those you love on board with your (re)mission.
Nourish The Right Friendships
The ability to maintain friendships when you have a chronic illness is often dependant upon the quality of your relationships and how you choose to nurture those relationships. Nourish friendships that are good for your health-Friends that are good for your health are those that are understanding, loyal, compassionate and consistent. While it’s up to you to be clear about your needs as they relate to your illness AND your wellness, those who are understanding and supportive as well as those who are able empathize with you and your condition are the ones to keep around.
Use Positive and Loving Self-Talk
The way you speak to yourself has a major impact on the way you feel about yourself, your needs and your actions. With or without chronic illness, you need your own support more than you need anyone else’s. When your limitations get in the way of living life the way you planned or hoped to and when you choose to slow down, skip out or say no to something as a means to protect yourself, your health and your wellbeing, make sure to be reassuring, kind and understanding to yourself. Using positive and loving self-talk like: “I need some down time so that I can maintain my remission,” “I am doing what is right for my mind and body,” “I feel good about taking care of myself,” or “ by saying no, I’m being proactive about keeping myself well” can make all the difference.