Tag Archives: loneliness

The Isolation of Chronic Illness

This is a processing post.

I was thinking this morning how long it is since I’ve seen an actual human being.  Then began to think back over how many I have seen in the last 10 days – it was less than five.  If you take out my family it was two – and one of them was my GP!  The other was a faithful friend who ‘gets it’ and knows how much I value contact.

You see, the problem with chronic illness is you can’t go out much.  You can’t think ‘I fancy doing’ and go and do it.  You can’t meet people for lunch, pop to the pub, go and mooch round the shops, or many other everyday activities – not easily and as a regular occurrence anyway.  You don’t reliably have the energy/someone to go with you to make it possible/the resources etc etc…  The actual wherewithal to just get out of the house may not be possible.  You can’t plan ahead because who knows if you’ll be having a good day or a bad day.  And actually once you get somewhere, you can’t stay long anyway!  Today, in desperation, I thought perhaps I’ll just take my book to the park to read for a change of scene.  But once I thought through if I could make it there, I remembered there probably wouldn’t be a seat comfortable enough for me to sit on.  I could take my own, but unless I want to sit in the car park, I’d have to carry it.  Hmmm… (and I know I’m lucky in that I can get out for brief excursions sometimes)

If you are ill with, for example, a cold or a broken leg it is for a short time.  You feel too ill to see anyone or do anything and when you’re better you’re back up and at ’em; or you can amuse yourself, because after all, we all crave some rest, or have a box-set we’ve been desperate to have time to watch.  If you have a chronic illness, that goes on and on.  You continually cannot do what you want to.

Another aspect is that if you are, perhaps, in hospital, or ill at home for a time, people come to see you.  It is an abnormal event and people come to sympathise and cheer.  People cannot continually do that if you are chronically ill.  They cannot be expected to.  It is not an abnormal event but how life is.  Everyone is busy in their own life, they see lots of people day in day out – probably too many, and peace is what is craved.  And to be honest, though lovely to see them, sometimes even the effort of someone coming to see you is just too exhausting – it’s a vicious circle.

It’s also difficult to know if someone with chronic illness is ‘more ill than normal’, because you don’t always see them around anyway!  So how can anyone know that a situation needs responding to?

All of which adds to an isolated and isolating situation.

I don’t have any answers.  I guess I’m just waving a bit of a flag.  Does anyone else have any answers or suggestions?  I know it must be much worse for others.


This is written in response to the BBC focus on Loneliness, as part of their Faith in the World Week.  This is not to denigrate the experience of those who live alone, but to explore a different aspect of loneliness – that of the chronically ill.

Loneliness, Hans Thoma

You go out.
I stay home.

You go to exciting places,
and meet interesting people.
I go for medical appointments.

You make spontaneous trips,
meet up for lunch,
go for drinks.
I’m home alone
with the tv and books for company.

You do the things I love,
the things I was actually quite good at,
I’m glad for you,
but also a bit jealous.
I used to do that,
that was my life.
And now I sit and watch.

You have every right to your life,
to enjoy the pleasures,
to do what you are good at,
what you are called to.
But sitting and watching
others live their life
is a lonely place to be.

There is no option to “get yourself out there”,
to decide to go and see
what is happening in the world,
to go and find other people.
Caught in a world of frustration,
of isolation,
of broken dreams
– trying not to become bitter
and resentful.

It’s a lonely world
when you’re not really in it.
To not be able to take part,
or join in,
to have to watch from the sidelines,
or hear about it second-hand.
desperately longing
to be a part.
When everyone else has somewhere else to be,
and you don’t have the strength
or energy.
Trying to take interest,
trying not to wallow in self-pity,
trying to make the best..

…but lonely,
so lonely.