September 11, 2009
I lie awake, lonely as a solitary bird on the roof. Psalm 102:7
Everyone has times of loneliness; it's part of the human condition. We can be lonely in the midst of a crowd or as part of a family. Social isolation is much more than loneliness. It takes hold of us when venturing outside our homes or allowing someone in our dwelling becomes threatening. Sometimes people with facial pain (such as neuropathic, orofacial, or trigmenal neuralgia) and other disabilities are isolated because an illness prevents them from getting out of the house or from interacting with others.
Isolation can occur for a number of reasons. Because of the disability, we lose confidence in being able to interact successfully with others. Sometimes exhaustion plays a role in becoming isolated. Other times, we experience rejection from family members or other individuals who mean a great deal to us. Ridicule from co-workers or fellow students can also be a factor. After all, why would someone cover his or her face with a scarf on a day with wonderful cool breezes? Sometimes its the way that strangers react to us that can cause us to become discouraged.
Social isolation can be overcome, step by step. One of the things that we can do is to join a support group for people who have pain. If there is not one in your area for facial pain, you may want to contact pain organizations such as the American Chronic Pain Association, The American Pain Foundation, or Rest Ministries. There are also on-line groups for people who are not yet ready to venture from home.
If you are looking for a way to get out of the house, you may want to volunteer for an organization. Find one that will be really flexible with your schedule, and make sure that the activities don't trigger your pain. You can do more solitary activities like shelve books in a library or you can choose something more social such as volunteering at a church or school. I recommend that you ease into activities like this, working no more than two to four hours a week until you are confident that you can handle more. You may also want to avoid volunteering for one-on-one scheduled activities. If you are having pain at the time of the appointment, you may feel pressure to meet the schedule - not wanting to let the other person down - rather than taking care of your own medical needs.
Pets can help us overcome isolation. Look for a group of owners who share your interests. You can usually do this through www.meetup.com or through your local ASPCA or Humane Society chapter.
There's nothing I recommend more for someone who is socially isolated than becoming involved in a friendly church. For people with facial pain, this can be difficult. When I lived in Gainesville and was attending a new church, people would come to shake hands with me, smile, and chat. Sometimes It caused me a lot of pain to smile or to talk. I wanted to embrace the friendliness, but I couldn't. One nice woman asked me to go to lunch, but I didn't want to try to eat in public. Having lunch with someone involved two painful things: chewing and talking. If you are interested in going to church, you may want to see if the church has a visitation pastor or volunteer. You can meet one-on-one with this person to explain your situation, and they can facilitate your needs. At a small church, you may not find someone with this role, and this means you will need to contact the pastor.
Whether it is volunteering, going to church, or finding a support group, write out your special needs - how to avoid your triggers. Make copies. Take them with you so that you won't have to explain it time after time to the new people you meet. If your first effort doesn't feel right, you have the opportunity to try again or to move on to another choice.
Everyone needs support. These are just a few ways to overcome isolation. Tiny steps are usually the safest way to begin your journey back into the community. I am wishing you the most success. It may not be easy, but you are worth the investment.
Have you read With Great Mercy?