Isolation: The Shadow That Follows Illness
One of the familiar characteristics of being ill, or going through a tough time, is a sense of isolation. Maybe we reach out less often to our friends, or enter into a cold orbit that takes us further away from our partner and other people we share a living space with. Simple questions like, “How are you?” become complicated and unpleasant.
Even if we could really communicate what we are going through, what good would it do?
You might imagine, who wants to hear about my depressing situation? Plus, even if they’ll listen, it’s hard for people to not pepper you with advice (“Have you tried [insert obvious suggestion] yet?”]. Or, as is often the case, they change the subject to something more comfortable, which might make you feel as if you’ve shared too much.
The tendency to isolate is like an undertow of which we are barely conscious. Yes, there is a healthy aspect to finding quiet and space for yourself, especially if you’re receiving lots of conflicting opinions or pressures from those around you. However many of us secretly carry the notion that we are going to solve our problems, restore whatever was lost, and then return to the world with nothing to be embarrassed about anymore. This kind of thinking only strengthens our belief that illness or pain is something to be ashamed of, similar to how mental illness or developmental disabilities were once barely talked about.
The other aspect of isolation is that we develop a myopic vision of ourselves in which our limitations, failures, and fears are nearly all we observe. Without the feedback from others that we are decent, kind and worthwhile, we tend to believe the worst thoughts about ourselves which, of course, only prolongs and deepens our isolation.
It’s Hard to Heal by Your Lonesome.
There is a resource that has been tremendously helpful to me that I would like to share with you: a program called Unconditional Healing started by my friend and mentor, Jeff Rubin. Unconditional Healing began after Jeff experienced a sudden and inexplicable illness. He sought a way of finding sanity and compassion even amidst the chaos and search for a diagnosis. As he recently wrote, “Genuine health and well-being is unconditional and inherent to human beings, no matter what circumstances befall us. Physical health is but a small piece of the puzzle of who we are; real health encompasses the whole human being, including mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.”
The teachings of Jeff and the friendships I’ve made in Unconditional Healing have been life-changing. I’m not sure how I would’ve handled the chronic pain and major life changes that occurred in my mid-20s without the insights from his work. I acutely experienced that sense of isolation and complexity which felt like a moat separating me from others and self-compassion. But as Jeff has taught me, the separation usually had less to do with the illness or pain and more to do with my feelings and judgments about my situation. The group meets once a month in Manhattan and Jeff periodically teaches longer workshops and retreats.
Jeff will be teaching a six-week online course, “Unconditional Healing: Finding Well-Being Through Adversity,” which begins on May 1 (you can watch the videos and participate on your own schedule for the duration of the course). I can’t recommend enough for anyone who is going through a hard time to consider this course or attending the Unconditional Healing group.
In Jeff’s 6-week course, participants will learn:
- The four components of healing and how to work with them
- The main obstacles that accompany illness and adversity
- Taking on pain and adversity as a spiritual path
- The true meaning of healing versus curing or fixing
- How to connect to one’s unconditional health
So often, we think we will look into the larger questions of life when we have more time and aren’t so busy. Yet, we rarely find the time or inspiration to do so. It’s not until our status quo is interrupted by illness or life events that we are truly open to change. So take advantage of it!