It’s back to school time in our area. As I scroll through the stream of my friends’ Facebook posts with photos of their children dressed for their first day of classes and see the myriad of teacher quotes encouraging teachers about their impact on students’ lives, I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy and become a bit melancholy.
It wasn’t that many years ago that I would have been up to my eyeballs in classroom preparations, teacher planning meetings and back to school functions. And, it reminds me again how much my life has changed because of the fibromyalgia.
It also caused me to think about the social isolation that is an inevitable result of this disease. Before the fibro took over and I had to stop teaching, working a 70-hour week was not unusual. It was tiring but rewarding at the same time.
I loved popping across the hall to chat with co-workers and meeting parents at the post office. My classroom was often a gathering place for students and other teachers at the end of the day, whether for tutoring or a short conversation.
As a whole, this new normal of social isolation is probably the hardest adjustment I’ve had to make. I would love to be out in the community, attending meetings, getting regularly involved in church, going out for movies and a dinner. But, now, to do even one of these things involves days of planning and possibly days of recovery.
I don’t see my friends face to face much anymore. When I quit working full-time, my husband and I moved to a town almost two hundred miles away. I don’t know if my moving away was the reason, or if my friends would have drifted away regardless of the move. Even before we left, I was seeing less of them. Either I couldn’t summon the energy to go out or had cancelled too many meetings, and gradually they had moved on.
Many of them didn’t understand that I craved their company. I think they thought they were doing me a favor by not inviting me to attend something that might make me tired or cause me to hurt more.
It was a tough time as I watched my friends slipping away, busy with their own lives and building relationships with others who could get out at a moment’s notice and had no problem with spending an entire day at the mall.
But as I look back, I realize that, slowly, I have found other ways to stay connected.
I still miss the face to face interactions, but thankfully because of the Internet, I can watch from afar as my friends go on with their daily lives. I enjoy the posts of their children and their trips, and it makes me happy to know they are happy.
Though I was once much too busy to spend time on Facebook, Pinterest, other social media and email , now I savor sitting down each day to see what everyone is up to. I find that as I reach out and comment on their posts, many of them reply or give me a quick thumbs up. Then I know I’m not forgotten, just out of sight…
I’ve also found that I am much more in tune with my husband now. I can take time to really listen and think about what he has to say and what’s going on in his life. Before, we were both going in a thousand directions and didn’t always take time for each other. It’s been a good thing for both of us to focus on each other more.
Finally, the “free” time I have now has allowed me to also focus on my relationship with the Lord. Whenever I am feeling isolated or neglected, I just remind myself that I am never alone. He is there with me and He will never leave me or forsake me. I have come to rely on Him at a much deeper level and my faith is stronger than it ever would have been if I had not developed Fibromyalgia.
Looking back on the changes in my life, if I had the option to go back and live a life without the Fibro, I’m not sure what I would choose. It has made me stronger in so many ways. I find that I appreciate the good days now in a way that would be impossible without the bad days. I have a closer relationship with my husband and my God.
I take better care of myself both physically and emotionally now. And, though I wouldn’t wish this disease on my worst enemy, I have to honestly say that my life is more balanced and happier than it was before the fibromyalgia took over.
I’m also thankful that I am still able to get out occasionally. Because the opportunities are fewer and far between, they become so much more precious.
So, I want to encourage you to focus on the positive aspects of your life and look for ways to stay connected with others even if those connections aren’t face to face.
Here are a few of the strategies I use to avoid feeling isolated:
1. Take advantage of social media.
Reach out to your friends through comments, quick positive updates and memes. For many busy people, it’s not that they don’t care about you, they are just busy with their own lives. A simple reminder that you are still out there is enough to cause them to respond and touch base with you.
2. Find forums and groups that provide support and encouragement.
I am a member of several Quilting groups on Facebook. I don’t have a lot of energy to craft anymore, but I love seeing the projects that others are creating. And, quilters like to encourage one another with many different aspects of their lives.
I would caution you to stay away from groups that are focused on the negative. We have enough of that in our lives already.
3. Get involved with a prayer group.
I may not be able to physically go out and visit the sick or the elderly as much as I’d like, but I can always pray for them.
Even if you can’t be involved with a group, you will notice needs of others on social media. You can pray for them specifically and individually.
While you are at it, be a prayer warrior for our leaders, whether it be locally or nationally. They need our prayers ALWAYS!
4. Subscribe to some YouTube channels of people you enjoy.
I follow several YouTubers regularly, from all walks of life. Several of them are pastors who post sermons each week. A few of these are Real Life with Jack Hibbs, Calvary Church with Skip Heitzig, Hope for Our Times and Pastor Greg Laurie. So, though I’m not regularly in a church service, I am still able to learn and keep up with what’s going on in their churches.
I also have some fun channels that are just for entertainment. A few of those include:
Curiosity Incorporated. I love watching this man and his family as they go about building their antiques business in Edmonton, Canada. He has a very positive outlook on life and I always feel better after watching whatever they are up to. His series on the Potter’s House was a lot of fun!
Because I enjoy sewing, I also like to watch Evelyn Wood from Australia. She’s funny, cute and very upbeat about life. I love that she encourages reusing and “renovating” old clothes so they don’t end up in landfills. She has excellent tips on thrifting and great how-to videos about sewing.
Clean My Space. This one has useful tips on how to clean with environmentally safe products and helpful cleaning strategies to make housekeeping easier. I enjoy watching this young couple as they are building their business and rearing their sweet young daughter.
5. Get a digital library account.
Many libraries now offer an app that allows you to check out digital books right from your computer. I love getting lost in a story and being distracted from my daily struggles. There are great motivational and self-help books available for loan, too. And, the best part is I can check them out right from the comfort of my recliner.
6. Pick up the phone and call or text someone.
There are many others, just like you, who find it difficult to go out for a visit. Receiving a call from a friend who cares might just make the difference from having a day filled with loneliness and pain to a day filled with love and laughter.
7. Develop your relationship with God through study and prayer.
He is always available and wants to connect with you. If you have never reached out to Him before, I encourage you to watch this video and learn how you can have a personal, one on one relationship with Jesus. He’s my very BEST friend!
Every time I reach out, I’m reassured that I’m not so alone after all. Your friends may not know how to reach out to you, but when you take that first step, you will almost certainly be rewarded with love and friendship.
What are some of the ways that you stay connected? I encourage you to share in the comments below. Together we can help each other uncover our best selves!