By Ruth Livingston Ph.D., psychologytoday.com:
Many with a medical illness seek comrades on similar journeys. Psychotherapy and support groups, internet chat rooms and blogs are all ways of connecting with one's illness companions. Says one patient of his MS psychotherapy group: "they're my brethren". Despite the fact that his group is not heterogeneous (the degree of impairment ranges dramatically among members) he discovers they have a common ground — and a common enemy — uniting them. The group provides health-enhancing strength and a safe space where members can speak their fears aloud: progression, burdening others, challenging relationships, role shifts, financial and career anxieties. They bolster each other with coping tools. When one member has a relapse, they rally around their comrade and find comfort in each other.
Of course, venues such as therapy and support groups are not for everyone. Some medically ill people prefer to "be alone", and choosing to be alone is distinct from a sense of disconnection and isolation. Being alone in medical illness can provide solace, space for reflection, contemplation and self-assessment as well as a feeling of control and direction. The person who is alone — but not lonely — may find self-connection through religion, spirituality, or artistic immersion, for example. No question, these can be profoundly valuable supports. Yet, they are not necessarily antidotes to the existential loneliness that so many medically ill persons experience.
Often the remedy is finding a community where the unspoken feelings around illness not only can be spoken but are routinely given voice. My patients tell me that encountering and engaging with others who share their illness lifts the pallor of isolation, the barrier that separates the healthy from the ill. "Our lives are not tragic," says Elisa of the cancer-sharing couple. Going through any medical illness "together", with others on a similar journey, is far better than going it alone.