Who’s in Your Wolf Pack?
Humans are configured as social animals, regardless of personality type. We rely on each other, not only at a basic level for security, comfort, and good conversation, but also on a higher plane for things like artistic inspiration and love.
The necessity of having “our people” around is never clearer than when we are diagnosed with a chronic illness. In the animal kingdom, the sick and weak might be culled from the herd. But humans’ intellectual and technological advancements mean we have the resources to help each other thrive — even those of us who aren’t in ideal physical condition.
When struggling with illness, the company of a dog or a cat can be a source of immense comfort. Most of us would agree that people are one step higher than a house pet, but the interlocking of other humans’ values, personalities, and communication styles can be significant barriers, even for someone in optimal health. So, how do we navigate the complex world of human relationships to be rewarding without piling up more stress?
One helpful step might be to narrow our social circle. With limited energy, it’s important to allocate our time to the right people and places. This means we may have to prioritize some events on the calendar and cancel others to better conserve our energy.
It’s natural that social roles in our lives may change after a diagnosis. A spouse or a family member might transition to caregiver, for example. Acquaintances might become closer friends, or vice versa — friends could become more distant. In evolving circumstances, the dynamics of some relationships might shift significantly, while others don’t shift at all. It’s up to you to decide where to place your trust and vulnerability during this state of flux.
Relationships, especially friendships, require give and take. On days when we don’t feel well, we sometimes don’t have the energy to invest beyond our own well-being, and it’s healthy to acknowledge and accept this.
You may be going through a period in which you feel like there’s less you can contribute to the friendship. Maybe you can’t even initiate a movie date or coffee meetup, let alone attend one. It’s easy to feel guilty, knowing that friendships require work. But a loving pal will see, understand, and respect your situation for what it is, and may even proactively give a little more on their end until you feel better.
Besides the physical struggle, a chronic illness also is emotionally stressful. A patient must come to terms with their new lifestyle and everything it entails. Some disease profiles have the added toll of being rare or uncommon. It’s easy to feel isolated, unique, and overwhelmingly alone, especially in the first weeks and months after diagnosis.
Support groups for our condition, whether in person or online, allow us to plug into a pack that truly understands our specific challenges. In a decade of burgeoning social media options, this world is open to us unlike ever before. Forums, Facebook groups, and other internet connections help us build a network of empathy when we need it most. (Bonus: A platform with this specific exchange of ideas can be a cache of helpful material for researchers and potentially lead to a better quality of life.)
Another valuable member of your circle could be a doctor, nurse, physical therapist, or other trusted healthcare worker. A psychiatrist can help you examine your mental health, get control of your outlook, and come to terms with your new lifestyle. They also can help you stave off feelings of depression or anxiety before they become overwhelming.
No one should have to struggle alone, especially with news of a chronic health condition. By surrounding ourselves with the right wolf pack, we can find support and peace, helping us thrive in adverse circumstances.
Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.