Managing Loneliness and Macular Degeneration
One of the hard truths about battling macular degeneration is it oftentimes accompanied by loneliness. For many of us, craving human contact with others can feel painful, uncomfortable, and even debilitating and scary. In extreme cases, people can feel so alone or misunderstood that they find themselves struggling with their mental health.
The difference between social isolation and loneliness
Since we are also all currently experiencing the difficulties that COVID-19 brings, it’s important to note the distinction between social isolation and loneliness. The CDC defines loneliness as "the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact [a person experiences]... Social isolation is a lack of social connections and can lead to loneliness."1
Pandemics are socially isolating
This is especially true right now, a year later, as we continue living through a very isolating global pandemic. "Stay home!" "Social distance!" "Stay 6 feet apart!" "Don’t visit friends or family members who don’t live with you!" Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch!
Disease diagnosis feels lonely
On top of all of the pandemic ‘stuff,’ living with a degenerative eye disease in itself can really feel isolating. There is a real sense of not feeling heard or understood by well-meaning family members and friends.
It just isn’t always possible for another person to understand what we’re going through if they haven’t experienced it for themselves. They can try, and we appreciate that they do… but their good intentions aren’t always enough.
Age can cause loneliness
The CDC states that nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.1 This is for a few different reasons. Since Age-related Macular Degeneration usually occurs in older individuals, many of our community members are over the age of 65.
This loneliness occurs partly because people in this age range are no longer doing the things they did in their younger years. They’re no longer working or raising families, and therefore their contact with others is limited. Plus, they’re more susceptible to complications with COVID-19.
Loneliness can cause other ailments
Besides depression, anxiety, and suicide, the CDC also makes it clear that many adults who are socially isolated or lonely can also put their health at risk in these ways:1
"Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Social isolation is associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia. Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) is associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of strokeHow can we stay connected."
What can we do about it?
This shocking information begs the questions: What can we do about it? What if we sometimes need to rely on others to accomplish everyday tasks but are no longer surrounded by people? What if our mental and emotional health is suffering because we’re so focused on our physical health during a pandemic?
Unfortunately, there are no right or wrong answers to any of this; no magical button to press to fix it. However, there are things we can do to stay connected to our loved ones and combat the loneliness that seems to be attacking us from all angles nowadays.
Get a hobby
If you feel alone or stuck at home, you can try to find a hobby that suits your needs. Can you start or join a gardening club or ask a fellow neighbor to go on walks with you now that the weather is getting warmer? You can always choose to wear a mask outside if that helps you feel more comfortable. There are ways to safely be with others; sometimes, we have to seek them out. Chances are, you’ll meet someone who is in need of a little friend time as well.
Find support in online communities
Finding support in online communities is a great way to surround yourself with people, who like you, understand what it feels like to land a diagnosis of macular degeneration.
Here, you can chat with others, ask questions, and just vent! It’s also a great place to find the information you may be seeking about how to be more independent in your everyday life but less isolated.
Get comfortable with technology
When keeping in touch with our loved ones in the last year, many of us have relied upon the use of video calls and technology. That can be challenging for anyone who isn’t comfortable with using technology or other devices such as iPads, tablets, computers, and cell phones. Try asking someone to help you get comfortable with using video calling. It isn’t the same as being face to face with someone else, but it definitely helps us to stay connected.
Use your voice
I am a firm believer in being my own biggest advocate. Though it isn’t always the easiest thing to do, being vocal about what we need from others is an important skill to have. You may need to be the one who invites your loved ones over for dinner or to a scheduled video call.
Seek professional help
If your feelings are hindering your ability to live a full and productive life, it may be time to look into seeing a medical doctor or therapist. These professionals can help us to better understand what we’re going through and can seek ways to assist in moving forward in a more peaceful way.
You are not alone
Feeling lonely or isolated can really feel awful and can cause a domino effect of secondary illnesses. Please know that even when you feel alone, you can always come here to find friends. It’s more than okay to feel alone and isolated, especially with a difficult diagnosis of macular degeneration during a pandemic. You’re not alone.
How does your mental health relate to your physical health?