Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Housebound and Single = Home Alone?, Part I

Awhile ago, "Marie" (name changed for privacy) of Footloose Femails, a Yahoo! group for single women, requested a post about the social consequences of a housebound lifestyle for singles. There are a number of reasons why one might be housebound, most of them involving physical or mental disabilities. Occasionally, people also find themselves spending a lot of time at home when living in a remote location or telecommuting, which can be similar to, though not quite the same as, being truly unable to set foot out the door. When you're single and live alone, the challenges of a housebound lifestyle are compounded. Previously, in "Single in Sickness and in Health: Prepare for Medical Emergencies," Singletude covered some of the steps single individuals can take to prepare physically for long-term health issues that limit mobility. But the emotional consequences of living single and housebound are harder to address, especially when many singles rely on activities outside the home to meet their social needs.

I don't think Marie realized it when she asked, but I've been largely housebound since I developed a long-term illness in September. I'm able to go out, but, for various reasons, going out is not that comfortable or convenient for me, so I don't do it a lot. New Year's Eve was my first night out in quite awhile, and by the time the evening wrapped up, I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable. I'm already learning ways to cope with my isolated lifestyle, but since I've only lived this way a short time, I don't consider myself that knowledgeable on the subject. So, I knew some research was in order.

My first instinct was to search the Web, where I found a lot of information about navigating the health care system, applying for social security, workman's compensation, or other benefits, and securing one's legal rights via a living will, power of attorney, etc. Unfortunately, this wealth of information didn't extend to solutions for maintaining a healthy social life while housebound, particularly when single. So I put out a call for housebound individuals who live alone to take part in an interview.

I received several responses from housebound singles, who generously sent me emails, blog links, and excerpts from their writing. What emerged was a picture of single people living relatively disconnected lives. It was amazing how soon after the onset of serious illness or injury these individuals saw their friends and loved ones start to drift away! Unfortunately, none of them wished to be interviewed for the blog. That's when I realized that I had overlooked my best source of information, one that had been in front of me all along--Marie! I asked to interview her, and she kindly consented.

For 12 years, Marie, age 43, has suffered from the effects of lymphoma, encephalitis, and a benign brain tumor that have left her housebound with debilitating, chronic pain, fatigue, and memory loss. When she was diagnosed, she was a popular young woman, "very social" with "lots of friends" and a boyfriend she was planning to marry. But the onset of her illness forced her to quit her job, and within two years, the strain of it took a toll on her relationship, which disintegrated. She has since decided to remain single.

Unable to manage the illness entirely on her own, Marie moved back in with her mother, who lives in a separate wing of the house, an arrangement that suits them both. "Life is excruciatingly lonely if you're housebound and living alone--so I'm lucky to have the option of living with mum," she says. However, Marie rarely sees friends--once every two or three months, at best. For two years after she became ill, she could still manage afternoons out, but this diminished to a two-hour maximum after another three years, and now she only leaves the house for short daily walks, medical appointments, occasional visits to her brother, and once-in-a-blue-moon shopping trips. If her friends want to see her, they have to make the effort to come to her, and most have proven unable or unwilling to extend themselves over time.

Another difficulty has been that friends find it hard to relate to her life. Explaining how her social circle has dwindled, Marie says, "At the same time as I got sick my good friends got married, moved, and soon had children--so our lives began to take on a completely different route--that ultimately, drastically, affected the friendship...I have lost all but a handful of friends, and those friendships have lost their 'spark.'" This drifting apart due to dissimilar life circumstances is something that many never-married singles experience, but it is magnified for the housebound, who have little opportunity to interact with more like-minded people and seek out new friends.

Throughout her prolonged illness, Marie's social refuge has been the Internet and, to a lesser extent, sewing circles and writing workshops when she was still reasonably mobile. Yet she has only made one new friend in 12 years, another patient whom she met through an online medical support group. This is now the friend that Marie sees most often. Marie's frustration is palpable when she says, "This is despite making a LOT of effort to make new friends--to find local hobby groups to join and hopefully, in time, to make a friend or two....Being housebound for so long has ruined many of my friendships and I have a regular, if not daily, feeling of 'loneliness' that can be fleeting or last for a few hours." Like the other housebound singles I heard from, Marie has clearly defined the problem but is still searching for a workable solution.

As stated before, I'm still new to the "housebound" lifestyle, which I put in quotes because I'm not nearly as housebound as some, so I'm not sure I have any valuable insight into how to form and maintain friendships in these very special circumstances. But next time, I'll offer some suggestions based on what I've heard from Marie and the other housebound singles who responded to my request, as well as on my own ideas, some of which I've already started to implement. Whether you're a single who's technically housebound or just isolated from your friends and family for some other reason, perhaps these ideas will be useful.

Are you housebound and single, or do you know someone who is? If so, has loneliness been a problem? Have friends and family withdrawn since you or your acquaintance became housebound? Has it been hard to establish new friendships or relationships?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have an unpublished rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a "Singletude Q&A" or your rant or rave in a "Singletude Sound-off"! Singletude makes every effort to republish submissions in their original form but reserves the right to edit your submission for length and clarity.


Jill said...

You know, I never really htought about single & housebound. A good friend is (mostly) housebound ... I know some of the specifics of her day to day life, but now you've got me thinking about the bigger picture.

Anonymous said...

GREAT post. This is an important topic. Kudos to Marie for putting it on the table. I'm glad that she can maintain her independence yet still have her mom close by. The "whole nother wing of the house" setup is ideal--not only for mum-daughter, but for husband-wife, or boyfriend-girlfriend (in MY opinion only).

Ted said...

Problems with health care for singles aren't confined to the housebound. Many types of surgery that used to involve hospitalization are now done as outpatient procedures, a requirement often levied by insurance companies. The patient's family is enlisted to provide the post-operative care for free that was formerly provided by paid hospital staff, creating significant cost savings that insurance companies can pass on to their executives and shareholders.

That system, of course, assumes that patients have a family available to volunteer for the duty. A few years ago, my dad had outpatient hernia surgery. After he got out of the operating room, the staff did everything they could to hustle him out of the hospital as quickly as possible into the care of my mother and me. I asked one of the nurses how this efficient assembly-line system works for patients who live alone and don't have families. Her response was (nearly verbatim) "If they're rich they can hire a private nurse. If they aren't, I'd suggest they get married as soon as possible."

Clever Elsie said...

Jill: Hi, and welcome to Singletude if this is your first time here. :) I'm glad this post could bring to light an issue that doesn't get much attention. I think most of us find it hard to imagine what it's like for the housebound until it happens to us.

Christina: Yes, it was really generous of her to share her story like this, and I'm grateful for it.

As you know, I'm in 100% agreement with you about the separate wing thing. Not too economical maybe, but I'd consider it good for family values--might stop a divorce or two, maybe even a homicide. ;)

Ted: Hi! Great to see another new face here. Thank you for that reminder of the difficulties that singles face with short-term medical issues, as well. It's so true and really scary!

I'm witnessing something like this firsthand with my uncle. He's lived alone ever since my aunt passed away a few years ago. They had no children. He hasn't been in good health since shortly after my aunt died and has been in and out of the hospital for one surgery and another. Each time, he's been released well before he could take care of himself, even with weekly visits from a home aide. He has no blood relations in his life, so he relies on his in-laws (my side of the family), but only one of us lives within an hour's drive of him. Nonetheless, various family members have sacrificed to spend weeks at a time with him. If he didn't have my very generous mom and cousin, I'm not sure what he'd do.

bobbyboy said...

Wow, first and foremost I'd like to wish "Marie' the very best of luck and thank her for sharing this with us all!
Secondly, I hope that things get better for you also Elsie, hang in there :)

I am not in this situation nor know anyone that I can even think of, but I do remember some elderly folk when I was a youngster. I had always shown them respect and helped them by going to the stores for them or helping them in some other way, but never understood the value of "Talking" with them. Had I, I would have spent more time talking with them and keeping them company.

This article rocked and helped to open my eyes a bit more, thank you (all)!

Clever Elsie said...

Bobby: It's great to see you back here again! I'd started to wonder if you weren't blogging anymore and missed your unique voice.

I do think housebound single folks--and most especially the elderly--miss companionship more than anything else. Some cities have volunteer programs in which you can sign up just to spend time with a senior citizen who doesn't get out much. I'd really encourage anyone who's interested to see if their town has such a program.

Sandra said...

It's a very nice article thanks for sharing this very interesting story about Housebound and Single I'm glad that you can be able to share this kind of issue.