The Chronic Illness-Isolation-Craziness Link

I like my quiet time. I am an avid reader, writer and prayer warrior so I love solitude and having time to myself every day. I was raised to be independent; I often travel, work, and do many things alone, without thinking twice about it. When I was a flight attendant, I especially craved my alone time. Having to see five hundred passengers everyday was overwhelming, so on my off-days, I craved silence and solitude. Socializing, when you have to do it all day long, is a chore.

So you would think that Lyme disease, having sucked me from the world of jet chatter and a social circle of hundreds, has been a welcome relief from PEOPLE. And that I should be rejoicing, because I now live alone, and spend most of my day at home, where I can read and write and pray until the spiros come springin’ home. All the alone time I want and then some.

And then some. That’s the problem with Lyme disease, isn’t it? Too much social interaction makes most of us crazy and tired but…so does solitude.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s like this. If I can spend one day at home alone, working on my writing or other projects, I’m happy. But two days at home, without seeing people, and loneliness starts to creep up on me. Three days without another soul to share a meal or a nice conversation with, and loneliness begins its metamorphosis into depression. Five days alone, and I’m game for the loony bin. On the rare occasions when I allow myself to be shut up for five days, because I get intensely involved with a project or I’m just too tired to go out, I find myself feeling quite blah by the fifth day. If I do this five-day-isolation marathon repeatedly, a more definite pattern of despair finds its way into my soul.

This isn’t good. A person can’t heal wearing such dark emotions.

I find that talking to friends on the phone helps, but often, it isn’t enough. There’s just something about face-to-face interaction, about going out and mixing it up with others, that lifts the spirits and vanquishes the lie-based thinking that happens when I’m alone for too long.

But when it comes to Lyme disease, we sufferers are faced with a double whammy. As if it weren’t bad enough that the bugs foul up our brain, any depression they cause is compounded by our lifestyle of relative inactivity, and for some… isolation.

Yes, sometimes we just can’t do anything about it. Illness is isolating. Plain and simple. I’ve written about this before, but I need to write about it again, because it’s no small thing, and I know because I can tell you with certainty how I feel after one, two, or three days without human contact.

If you are like me, you might not be so sick that you can’t leave the house. You do get out, but when the fatigue reaches a certain limit, you find it’s just easier to perform sedentary activities around the house. Perhaps you make the excuse that you have too much to do around the house. Or you know that going out means spending money, and having health care expenditures of $1,000 upwards per month means that you think twice about paying ten bucks for an evening out with friends.

In the end, though, you have to wonder if you can heal like this.

Let’s face it, a sad soul depresses the immune system. I don’t care how many drugs you take, how much of the right food you eat…if you are sad or lonely as a result of a lack of social interaction, your health is going to suffer. There have even been studies demonstrating that people die without human interaction.

So what’s the solution if you are too sick to work or go out? Is phone communication with other stay-at-home Lyme sufferers the only answer? I don’t know. I’m still working on that one.

I once read a book on psychoneuroimmunology, a discipline that studies the relationship between the psyche, nervous, endocrine and immune systems. I regret that I can’t recall the name of the book, but one interesting study it mentioned is how loneliness affects the physical body more negatively than being in a bad relationship! A person who has spent the majority of his or her days in isolation has a shorter life span than someone who has lived in a less-than-ideal relationship with another. I don’t know, however, if the study took into account abusive relationships, which I think can be far more harmful than a life of loneliness.

No, I don’t have any great solutions here, but I would urge you to get out if you can…even if it hurts a little, even if it will cause you a bit of post-exertional malaise later. Or perhaps, as I suggested in an earlier post, get a roommate. Yes, it might be a challenge to find someone sensitive to your Lyme-needs, and you may be inconvenienced by their bizarre habits, but can you put up with a few irritations for the sake of having someone around to laugh or watch movies with? If having a roomie isn’t an option, then consider making friends with your neighbors. If you did this, then you wouldn’t have to spend lots of money and energy to see people. And if you’re really sick, at least try to have telephone communication with others, or watch funny movies that will provide you with some form of indirect kinship with others.

In the meantime, if I ever figure out a fantastic way out of this one, I’ll let you know. Maybe if I had a few hundred thousand dollars, I’d set up a community house for Lyme disease sufferers here on the beach in Costa Rica…