“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” – Anthony Burgess
I hope you got a laugh out of that quote. You deserve a laugh.
Because this article is about a sad subject: Feeling alone.
You know, I went searching for some good quotes about solitude and it wasn’t easy to find a funny one. To most of us being alone is the scariest and worst part of life. I talk to a lot of people about chronic illness and COPD. I listen to a lot of people too.
The number one complaint I hear – after “Oh, my god, I can’t breathe!” – is “I feel so alone.”
I get it. I feel that way sometimes too. I really felt alone right after my diagnosis. At that point, ‘alone’ meant ‘not part of healthy people society anymore.’ That is probably a very human and very common thought. I wasn’t sure how to not be part of that society. I had been pretty healthy and had never smoked so I was confused and scared.
I felt like I was alone even in a crowd.
I learned as much as I could about COPD and read about what other people are going through. As I grew comfortable with my place in the disabled world – and it is different from the healthy people world – I didn’t feel so weird and alone with my illness.
After a while, ‘being alone’ shifted in a more personal direction.
I also talked loudly and frequently and obnoxiously about every problem I had, from shortness of breath and rib cramps to how awful I thought the health care system was. If there were an award for Most Annoying Complainer in the Universe I would’ve won it. I could’ve kicked Oscar the Grouch out of his garbage can. He’s such an amateur.
When the responses of my friends and family turned into a bored chorus of “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” with glazed eyes, I realized that they might actually need a break from all the complaining. I realized that people would rather be around positive friends. Who knew? Go figure.
Now, this didn’t mean I could never speak of COPD again.
My family and friends need to know how I’m doing and what I can and can’t do.
They do care about me and want to listen. They just didn’t know what to do with all the negativity I dumped on them.
As time went on, I discovered that some friends didn’t visit because they didn’t want to tire me out. So they were actually waiting on me to extend the invitation and let them know it was all right to come over. It sounds contradictory but they grew distant out of concern for me. So I gave them permission to draw close again.
I also decided to find a community who knew how I felt because they felt the same way.
Okay, if you’ve fallen asleep reading this, wake up now.
This is the important bit of this article:
I found several support groups online. There are some great ones out there, both on the web and on Facebook, like COPD.net. Some share a lot of good information. Some are communities that talk not only about the illness but also share photos they’ve taken or jokes or uplifting prayers and quotes. Some share concerns and complaints and sympathy. All of them have a purpose that helps me. I have a place to hang out and a support system I’ve built both online and off. I know that I am not alone.
I’ll repeat that: I am not alone.
And neither are you. Make that decision and find your group.
Now that I know that for certain, I am reminded of a wonderful quote from Vera Nazarain from “The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration”: Everyone is someone’s friend, even when they think they are all alone.
And I’ve got to be honest about being alone: Sometimes that’s all I want.
I want to be at peace, alone with my thoughts, or a good book, or to lay in the hammock and nap. Being alone is not all bad. I agree with author Amy Sedaris who wrote in her book “I like You: Hospitality Under the Influence”: I think it’s good for a person to spend time alone. It gives them an opportunity to discover who they are…” COPD has taught me a lot about myself.
Loneliness, in all the ways I’ve discussed, can weigh heavily on us. If we let it, it can be the only thing we feel. Will you feel lonely even with a support group? Will you feel lonely even in a crowd of friends?
Yes. Yes, you will.
I wish I could say otherwise, but that wouldn’t be honest. Your life has changed and sometimes just that fact will make you feel all alone. Sometimes, no matter how happy we are and how surrounded by loved ones we are, we still feel alone. All of us, not just those with COPD or other chronic illness. I suppose it’s part of being human. For most of us, those times are not frequent. I hope that with your support network they are not frequent for you.
And please know, you are not alone in this.
Finally, I want to talk to the ones who feel the most alone.
You, who live with no one. You, who have no friends who visit you. You, who have no family that can help you and comfort you. I want to tell you how sorry I am – we are. You have our sympathy, our admiration, our respect. We are here for you. We hope you’ve found a community with us.