In "Housebound and Single = Home Alone?, Part I," we introduced "Marie," who has spent years trying to sustain a social life despite an existence that is largely confined to the boundaries of her home. She's looking for ideas to help her stay connected to those she cares about as well as to help her find new friends.
The housebound lifestyle is still something I'm figuring out for myself since I was diagnosed last October with a chronic illness that limits my mobility, and, unfortunately, information on the social aspect of housebound living isn't prevalent. However, I'll gladly share what has worked for me and others I've known in hopes that someone will benefit. If anyone out there is also housebound and single, please feel free to contribute your own suggestions to the discussion!
Maintaining Existing Friendships
1. Open up to your friends and family.
Just because someone cares about you doesn't mean they understand what it's like to be you or that they know what you want and need all the time. A lot of younger people have never known a peer who was housebound and may not be sure how to respond. They may assume that you're not well enough for visits or lengthy conversations. They may worry about saying the wrong thing or unintentionally making you feel bad by talking about their busy lives, which you can't participate in.
If they haven't been in touch as much since you've become housebound, make sure your friends and family know that you miss them and want to hear from them. For instance, you could say, "I know it might seem like I wouldn't be interested in ________ [whatever things you can't do anymore], but I'm relying on you to keep me informed. I love hearing about it, and I want to know everything! Hearing your stories is as good as being there."
Be upfront about your limitations, too; no one understands them like you do. Don't leave your friends guessing about what you can and can't do. If you can't handle visitors but can talk on the phone, let them know. If you get too tired to talk for two hours but can talk for one, let them know that, too.
2. Make technology work for you.
If you can't see friends and family in person, be creative. For all the flak that texters and tweeters get, we're incredibly blessed to have such convenient methods of communication at our fingertips. So when you don't have the energy for in-person visits, pick up your PDA and put technology to work for you. From Facebook updates to blog posts, you have a wealth of options for keeping current with the people you care about from the comfort of your own home.
Do you miss the immediacy of face-to-face conversation? Download Skype or similar free VOIP software, order a headset with microphone and a webcam, and your callers will be able to see every smile, nod, shrug, and wink on their monitors. (Yes, that means you have to change out of your favorite Buzz Lightyear pajamas before they call!) If your friends and fam don't have webcams, they make great birthday or holiday gifts.
3. Check your own attitude.
When you talk to your friends, does the conversation revolve around how much it sucks to be sick or hurt? Do you hit them over the head with a litany of complaints? Underneath it all, are you envious that your friends are healthy, and might that attitude be sneaking into your conversation? Chronic pain is a heavy burden to bear physically and emotionally, and you should be able to complain about it sometimes. But many people have a hard time dealing with a constant barrage of negativity, which makes them feel sad, helpless, and even guilty. So try not to contact your healthy friends when you're at your worst and save the gory details for your doctor, therapist, and support group (see 3. under "Building New Friendships" below).
Building New Friendships
1. Seek out other survivors.
Even though Marie has had a hard time finding new friends, her strongest friendship right now seems to be with another survivor of serious illness. As Marie notes, the beauty of the Internet is that it brings together virtually people who can't be together physically. Lots of communities have real-life support groups for people suffering from specific illnesses or injuries (ask your doctor for a referral), but if you aren't able to leave the house for even a limited time, an online support group is the next best thing. If you're suffering from a relatively rare disorder, the Internet might even be the best thing.
Some people who haven't ever been part of an online message board or mailing list may be dismissive of friendships formed this way, but those who've participated in groups like this know that they can provide tremendous reserves of inspiration, empathy, caring, and even humor. Friendships established through this medium, especially those that continue via email, IM, phone, and, eventually, in-person meetings, can be just as deep as friendships that form in the "real world," if not more so. Why? Because other people in a support group understand what you're going through since they have the same concerns. They're likely to be more interested in your progress, more tolerant of your limitations, and more open to developing friendships because they're in the same boat with you, experiencing the same hardships.
To find the right online support group for you, search Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups, Facebook Groups, Yuku, or any other site that has message boards, email lists, or chat. You might also run a search for web sites dedicated to the illness or injury you're suffering from. Online foundations may include forums. If you don't find what you're looking for, you can start your own group or maybe even your own blog or web site!
Prefer one-on-one interaction? Make friends with Craig--Craigslist, that is--and post an ad for a friend in similar circumstances in the Strictly Platonic section. In addition, lots of free dating sites such as PlentyofFish and OkCupid allow users to search for "pen pals," "friends," or "activity partners" and set their profiles accordingly. You can briefly explain your lifestyle in your profile and specify that you want to find others in the same situation. (If you choose to sign up at a dating site, though, don't be surprised if many of the members you encounter expect "friendship" to be an intermediate step to something more.)
2. Don't forget the 'Net for other interests, too.
Just because you're housebound doesn't mean you have to give up your interests and passions. The Web is a wonderful gathering place to discuss art, entertainment, sports, politics, or whatever else is on your mind. Although you may not find close friends among online communities built around special interests, not all conversation needs to be of the deep, soul-baring variety. In the "real world," most of our interaction is based on light small talk, and we need these kinds of loose relationships as much as we need strongly rooted friendships. The Internet allows housebound singles to continue participating in those broad social circles without setting foot out of the house. Furthermore, because communication isn't in real-time, those who struggle with pain, discomfort, or fatigue are free to respond at their leisure. And perhaps the best thing about the Internet is that it doesn't discriminate. Housebound singles can freely express themselves without worrying that others will perceive them through the filter of their physical problems.
You can find online forums for your hobbies and passions in some of the same places you found forums for the housebound. Also investigate large hub sites devoted to your interest, such as IMDb for movies or Care2 for environmental and social causes. Additionally, many companies, TV and radio stations, and print publications have web sites that encourage commentary and discussion.
3. Find good counsel.
As much as your friends and family want to help, it may be hard for them to understand or cope with the physical and emotional pain that are part of your daily life as a housebound single. A mental health counselor can offer you a sympathetic ear and a safe place to vent your frustration. She or he may also be able to suggest new ways to find social support, keep your current relationships strong, or meet routine challenges more effectively on your own. If you're depressed or anxious as a result of the changes in your lifestyle, a therapist can help you overcome that, too.
In Marie's case, a counselor helped her to accept that she was not at fault for the distance that had grown between her and her friends and introduced her to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which, according to the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, is "a behavioral intervention to help people learn strategies to live life more in the present, more focused on important values and goals, and less focused on painful thoughts, feelings and experiences."
Ask your doctor for a referral to a psychotherapist who has experience with those who are housebound, or search online at sites like MentalHealth.net, MentalHelp.net, or LocateADoc.com.
4. Enjoy your own company.
As Marie's story illustrates, we can't necessarily change the behavior or reactions of others, but we can always change our own way of thinking. Whether or not you're chronically ill, disabled, or housebound, you probably already know that because it's the key to being happy as a single. Singles with singletude can be content in a coupled world because we've changed our thinking--we no longer believe (if we ever did) that a romantic relationship is the only route to a fulfilling life. When illness or injury strikes, we can use this same attitude to inform how we confront our limitations.
While everyone needs some contact with other people, sometimes we confuse our social needs with the desire to be popular, the obligation to fit in, or the fear of being alone with our own thoughts. The next time you feel lonely, ask yourself if it's because you truly miss and want to interact with certain people or because you're afraid of feeling bored, excluded, abnormal, or "uncool" if you don't take up your place in the social pecking order on Saturday nights. Chances are that, at least some of the time, your "loneliness" will be revealed as insecurity about being alone.
With a newfound awareness of the difference between being a lone individual and a lonely individual, you can use your time by yourself to explore interests and ideas you never knew you had. Before long, you may discover that you like being alone and embracing the opportunities it affords to set your own schedule, choose your own projects, and work, think, plan, relax, or dream undisturbed. There's a lot you can accomplish at home on your own. For examples, see "Top Ten Hobbies for Singles." Many of the activities described can be pursued in your own living room. You might also try writing a list of all the things you can do in your time alone that your friends can't and hang it somewhere you can see it every day.
Socializing remains challenging for singles who are housebound. You can't complete a 12-step program to guarantee that your old friends will stay in touch or order new friends from Amazon. But there are measures you can take to encourage the survival of existing friendships and the growth of new ones. Beyond that, you can embrace the circumstance in which you find yourself as an opportunity instead of a limitation. Most people spend each day racing from place to place, often hassled by thoughtless, uncaring people wherever they go. However, the housebound single has a rare chance to experience a degree of autonomy and peace that others may never know. Remember, your home is your castle. Isn't it nice to live like royalty every day?
Are you housebound and single, or do you know someone who is? If so, what have you done (or what has your acquaintance done) to stay in touch with friends and family or make new friends? Have you (or has your acquaintance) found any new activities that can be enjoyed at home alone? What do you do (or what does your acquaintance do) when loneliness strikes? Has the housebound lifestyle required a mental shift of sorts and, if so, can you describe that process?
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.