Until recently, the word ‘lonely’ made me think of being, well, alone.
Now I look at it a little differently.
Think of standing in a room full of people who you know nothing about, or who you know… But also know you have nothing whatsoever in common with them. How would you feel? That feeling strikes me as being pretty simmlar to having no one around, it’s probably worse. You can see possible connections, conversations and opportunities around you but at the same time they’re of no interest to you!
If someone has a chronic illness, surely this is made much worse?
No matter how hard someone tries, if they haven’t suffered what you have, how can they hope to understand?
Feeling misunderstood would translate into being alone, wouldn’t it? Left alone to cope with the way you feel, alone you have to work out the puzzles surrounding your illnesses because no one else knows what exactly you have to cope with.
That’s why I never expect anyone to fully understand.
I believe that you can have empathy without having a true understanding. Empathy is defined as an “ability to understand someone’s feelings as if they were one’s own,” what really matters in friendships, especially, are feelings, emotions, understanding each other. You don’t have to know, physically, the way it feels to be in constant pain or being seemingly permanently exhausted. What a friend must understand is emotions, “feelings”, not the physical pain but the way it affects you, how important it is to you and how they can help.
A basic understanding of a friend/family member’s situation is very important, but beyond that… It’s about the individual. Your sister, for example, might simply need a ‘shoulder to cry on’ whereas a friend might genuinely enjoy having long rants and discussions with you about everything that bothers them. Or maybe someone would really appreciate not mentioning it, their illness, and just having a good laugh for a change.
You are probably not a doctor, no one expects you to be a specialist in their condition. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave them lonely.
Just be there, be a friend.