When you have a severe accident or get a new diagnosis, there often are several sudden and significant changes that challenge the way you live. It is during times like these that we realize that no man is an island; we all need people in our life. In this post by Kent Revedal, we explore how to avoid social isolation and maintain meaningful relationships.
Through my work as CercaDeTi Rehab’s Co-Founder and CEO, I have teamed up with a colleague to identify three key areas to work on to avoid isolation. They are physical closeness, mental closeness and social interaction.
It’s said that if a new born child doesn't receive any closeness and love, it will die. I’m not sure if that is totally correct but we will for sure die emotionally. Human beings are a social species, we were made to interact with others. Through others we learn about ourselves, for better or for worse. Most often it’s through others we get a clearer picture of who we really are.
With a physically changed life, we may think others will look at us differently. And we may look at ourselves differently. I thought no one would ever want to touch my body after my spinal cord injury, at least not without gloves... I disliked my body and it was only natural that everyone else should.
During my stay at the hospital after my injury, a member of the night staff used to come in and give me (and probably everyone else as well) a big hug. She did not seem to see my paralyzed body as something disgusting, and through her and others’ actions, I slowly started to accept my new body and see it in a more positive way. Maybe I was acceptable after all, even with my paralyzed legs.
At times like these we more than ever need the physical touch, closeness and a big hug. I will not cover the aspect of sexuality here, as it’s covered in this blog post, but the physical closeness is so much more than sex or sexuality.
Giving someone a hug, holding someone’s hand or putting your hand on someone’s shoulder can mean so much to that person. It’s a show of acceptance, of you being there for real. If you have faced an injury or a diagnosis, don't let the experience become a barrier to the concern and care from others.
If you read this and have disabled people around you, never be afraid to show them some physical closeness, provided they have allowed you to do so.
With a diagnosis or injury, it’s not only the body that’s affected – our whole person is affected. There is normally a mental process as well and we go through tough stages to come to an acceptance of our situation. I say acceptance deliberately. Some people dislike that word.
My experience is that we must accept where we are. If we don’t, we can never change. We can never strive forward or find our way to a better future if we do not understand and accept the present situation. Acceptance means I have a ground to implement changes for the future.
Sometimes we have a tendency to isolate ourselves and not let our nearest and dearest in on our thoughts. Two things are of importance.
First; our close ones are not mind readers. They can’t know what you feel or think if you don’t share it. If you want comfort you need to let them into your thoughts, fears or whatever that occupies your mind.
Second; they do also suffer and they also have a right to express that and share that with someone. We simply need to recognize that we suffer together. Together is also the way most of us can get through. Don't isolate yourself and don't isolate your dear ones.
It’s a sad fact that physically impaired people experience less quality of life than the rest of the population. Research shows that this isn’t due to their diagnosis or injury but to a more limited social life.
We have a tendency to become isolated and less socially active. That makes people depressed and less willing to maintain their health and social life. It should not be like that! It’s something we can change, together.
If you, like me, have a diagnosis or injury – try to find ways to be socially active. I know it’s not easy always. I know that the body hurts. I know that you may not always know in advance if you can get somewhere without help. But is it better to stay home? People do miss you, and they want you in their midst.
A word for our able-bodied friends and family:
If you are a friend of someone like me, do not stop inviting them to your events. Don’t take for granted that they don’t want to come or that it will be too complicated. If they say no one time, ask again and again. Together you can solve almost anything, and hopefully it will be a life-long memory for both of you. You may be the only one ever asking, so that question can be a positive life changing experience for someone.