Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Stranger in a Strange Land

Ever watch those amazing folks that set up dominos and when they hit one it triggers this chain reaction that is amazing to watch?  I feel that way a lot of the time in my life.  I see something, read something, or experience something that triggers one thought after another…sometimes the ride is fun and sometimes it’s a bit bizarre.

I’m working in a different state from where I live and while I was driving, maybe because I felt a little lonely, I “really” noticed all the New York license plates on the cars (after all I am in New York).  Us out-of-state folks were truly not part of the mix.  That’s when the domino theory started and I felt even more like a stranger in a strange land.

I know this happens to many of you following your diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness.  You feel like you get plopped into another universe where the rules are different, the language is different, and truly the culture is different.  This can trigger that experience of loneliness, and feeling alone and/or isolated is not conducive to creating a health and healing environment for your body, mind, and spirit.

I’m not suggesting that you invite your doctor over for your weekly poker game (odds are good she won’t come) but to find a community of peers who you have a bond with or are at least willing to pick up enough key phrases or ideas so you can talk (kind of like getting ready to go on a trip and learning enough of the language to be able to eat and go to the bathroom).

I’ve watched many people over the years hint at an illness when talking to someone hoping they ask the right question…”Are you sick? Do you have?” instead of you being the one who has to spill the beans.  I find this to be especially true for me when I go out and don’t order alcohol.  I haven’t had any alcohol since 1992 because of the negative effects of alcohol on my liver as a result of the medications I take.  The “no alcohol” triggers a set of questions for them and I have a choice, I can either tell them about my auto-immune disease or tell them I’m an alcoholic because that’s almost always what they’re thinking.

Organizations that serve individuals and families with a particular illness often have support groups.  A support group is a great place to find partners-in-crime who you can discuss your experience with and create social ties so you reduce or eliminate your feelings of being isolated.  In my case I’ve had my disease most of my life and I’m not looking for support in that fashion, but I do find it from national  organizations that write newsletters and have fund-raising events for research; there I find the comfort in knowing I’m not a stranger in a strange land.

It can be a difficult transition finding that new tribe or even believing you need a new tribe.  The fact is your life circumstances are very different from many you know and it’s not that they dont’ want to understand, it’s that it may take them a long time because they aren’t having a personal experience; their exposure to your health challenge is through your eyes giving them your perspective.

Support is important so seek out those who can support you so you feel a part of the local community in body, mind and spirit.


I've lived my life in service to others. I'm focused on mental health and how it impacts our relationships, culture, and society. Through creative expression and narrative I believe we can impact change.

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