“The neighbors lost their white cat,” my husband said, “maybe you could keep an eye out for it.”
“Sure,” I said, “if it walks by the couch, I’ll certainly alert someone.”
The truth is I have been isolated way before Covid.
“I never see you,” a friend in NY said when we lived there.
That’s because I’m never out, I thought. If you dropped by my bedroom, you’d see me plenty. What I said instead was, “I’m around.”
“Where?” he demanded.
I listed the few places I went and he kept saying, “I go there all the time,” as if I were deliberately avoiding him.
I don’t avoid specific people but when I’m not well, it’s a challenge seeing anyone. In social situations, I tend to overcompensate by talking too much and giving myself a migraine or jaw pain.
I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia eighteen years ago and a host of other ailments over the years: migraines, IBS-mixed, hypoglycemia, chronic pain and fatigue, to name the ones I can remember.
In some ways, I have always been temperamentally suited to isolation. Although I am chatty to a fault, I was the bookish child my parents had to drag to the door and tell to go out and play with the other kids. Now I wish I could have said, “Have you met the other kids? That would be like you guys hanging out with insurance salespeople if those people occasionally threatened to beat you up.”
Even before Covid isolation, people used to say to me. “You live in FL – why don’t you have a tan?”
Because I don’t have skylights in my bedroom ceiling.
I used to joke that when we went on vacation to a tropical island, I came back paler than when I left. I said that the sun bleached me. Actually, I used 60 SPF sunblock, wore an enormous hat and sat under a beach umbrella. My body has always been sensitive but now it’s pickier than my cat: what I can eat, and how much, where I can sleep and how much, what I can do, shopping, walking, working and how much. All the things that come naturally to most people, including using the restroom (sorry – TMI) are on my “to do” list (sorry again.)
And if there are a lot of bad jokes in this post (IF, haha) it’s probably because like many people in these circumstances, I don’t want to bore or depress anyone.
That being said, there is a great isolation to chronic illness, even when you are lucky enough, as I am, to have a loving and capable caregiver and a compassionate support system. Still, I don’t want to overburden my husband since he already does the lion’s share of the work. I know how helpless he feels, how he wants to make it all better. I see it wearing him down and affecting his health. And there’s also only so much I can say to my friends. They have their own lives, their own problems. When I first got sick, I was obsessed: with my symptoms, with my prognosis, with my desperate search for a cure. When a friend said, “So, Sher, how you feeling?” I answered, “Do you really want to know?”
He replied, “Give me the ten-minute version,”
To this day, I love him for that.
The latest wisdom is that if you want to help someone in need, don’t ask them what you can do for them, offer tangible solutions: shopping, running errands, cooking a meal. Here’s another: give them space to vent. Let them give you the ten-minute version, if that’s what they want. They may not want that. In fact, they may not even want to talk. But I’m going to bet you that many times, they will be grateful for your company. And if they’re not, please don’t take it personally – unless you know for a fact that they don’t like you.
I usually try not to compare but sadly, isolation has given some people a view into how a world can shrink and the toll it can take.
Recently, my husband and I finally became eligible for the Covid shot. I was eligible prior to this, due to health issues, but could not summon up the energy to deal with the red tape. And the truth is that even when I get vaccinated, not all that much about my world will change.