Lately I’ve been mesmerized by the passion fruit vine I discovered growing along our fence. I use “discovered” in the sense that I saw the vine when we moved in, but only could tell you it was pretty and green.
Let’s just say that I am a wanna-be green thumb who hasn’t quite achieved more than beginner’s status.
If you follow me on Instagram, you saw when these beautiful passion flowers appeared several weeks ago. Soon after, tiny pods began to grow. I did a bit of research and SURPRISE: we have a vine covered with baby passion fruit!
I walked by that vine for MONTHS, you guys. To me, it was the same old vine every time. A beautiful piece of greenery in the yard, and one that I enjoyed.
I didn’t expect much, other than that the vine would be there to give me a pretty backdrop from my view on the front step.
Loneliness has been the backdrop to illness for me. It’s not pretty, but just as I viewed the vine for so many months: it’s just there.
It’s come with the territory of living with a disease that few understand. Combine that with being housebound and often physically unable to have visitors and this gets even more complicated.
That first year of illness felt brutal for me. I couldn’t enjoy community in the ways everyone else was able to, and so I (and my husband) naturally began to fall out of view of many of those around us.
Our lives were turned upside down by my sickness. And in a time when we needed friendship and support, we struggled. Our situation and needs/ability as a couple didn’t fit into any traditional community molds.
Many of my long-distance friends have been my rocks. Friends from childhood and college that have supported and loved me from afar. Through texts, care packages, fundraising, listening and learning about my illness – they were there. In spirit and love, they endeavored to be beside me.
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New local friends became family, bringing occasional meals or picking up groceries. Offering their help, kindness and friendship along the way.
But, the loneliness still lingered.
I remember a day about a year and a half ago that was exceptionally hard.
I was lying on my bed, with the tears flowing over how long it had been since I had seen someone other than Trevin. A combination of terrible pain and flare ups, the busy schedules of others and my own health forcing me to cancel any plans led to weeks of solitude. My spirit was tired and aching.
And oh so lonely.
As I lay there, frustrated and hurting over feeling so disconnected from my former life, I remember the following words playing over and over in my mind:
I am so lonely.
Why don’t you be a friend to others who are lonely?
I am in pain.
What if you were to share your pain and comfort the broken?
I am so limited with this body.
Why don’t you find ways to connect within your limitations?
There are few times in the last few years that I’ve felt God’s nearness or sensed Him speaking to me. But that is one day I felt him, gently there. Nudging me toward finding a way to not only cope with the heavy weight of loneliness, but to connect with others fighting similar battles.
So I began to find new ways to build friendship.
I gave myself permission to look for community within the limitations of my illness. I started to engage more with others on Instagram, follow their stories, support them and find common ground.
Within that community I found new courage to share my story more authentically.
I joined several chronic illness groups on Facebook and began to share my blog posts there, finding so many others who could relate to my struggle so well.
Through those interactions I felt comfort, encouragement, and it’s given me greater purpose as I write.
I’ve even connected with other illness warriors through friends of myself, Trevin and family. Those relationships have been such a gift! We send messages, texts, video and voice clips throughout the week, sharing the raw side of fighting illness as well as things to make each other smile.
They have provided a safe place for me to vent and “just be” when I need it most.
I’m not saying that all of the loneliness is gone. Some days I cope better than others and honestly it’s still hard. And I’m human.
But I’m learning to navigate this with honesty and an open heart. Through accepting that there are some things I can’t change and looking for ways to cope within my limits, I worry less about having “normal” community.
I embrace the tribe I’ve been given.
Just like the passion flowers that sprinkled my vine with cheer, these friendships near and far have brought light within my loneliness. Purpose and passion within my monotonous, quiet days of fighting illness.
They have reminded me we weren’t meant to struggle alone.
We are here to lean on each other.
So I’ll be here, leaning with you. <3
Have you struggled with loneliness? What are the ways you cope with it or find community?