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Isolation, Communication and Connection: Keeping the Lifelines Open 

By Mary Pettigrew
Keeping-Lifeline-Open_1.jpegToday’s climate is unlike anything we have seen before. News reports and daily briefings continue to change from one day to the next while our search for answers continues to fall flat. We must not allow ourselves to linger in a state of unpredictable limbo or the toxic fear of the unknown. Instead, we need to focus on what’s most important today, tomorrow, and the next days to come. We must take the steps needed to care of ourselves, to be present, and to be there for others. It’s up to each and every one of us to be safe, informed, responsible and compassionate. 

Although some people may feel they’ve been somewhat abandoned or left to deal with everything by themselves, this is not the case. We may be physically distanced from one another, but we still have the opportunity to remain connected socially. There are many solutions available which can help keep the lifelines open


Whether you have MS or not, it’s important we all understand how much everyone is affected by this upheaval of normalcy and learning to adjust day-to-day to a new existence in the life and times of COVID 19. All of us are facing difficult challenges and experiencing various stages of stress, anxiety, fear, and unrest. When isolated or living alone, these emotional stressors can be overwhelming. Loneliness can make matters worse and during forced isolation, the word “lonely” takes on a whole different meaning. I’d like to hear from others who are going through this alone and living with MS. 

Isolation and loneliness can indeed have a negative effect on emotional balance and overall well-being. It’s important to be cognizant of your mental health and take appropriate steps to lessen the risk of developing new issues or worsening issues with depression, anxiety or PTSD. Contact your physician if you begin to notice changes in your mental health before they get out of control. 

See if you can get yourself set up with tele-health video or phone sessions with a counselor or therapist. In many cases the sessions are covered under Medicare during these times. In fact, I had my first tele-health session this morning and it was great! There are other ways to stay connected to the outside world and opportunities to incorporate social interaction with family, friends and others, but you have to want to do it. 

People around the world are either “urged” to take cautionary measures or have been governmentally forced into a 14-day quarantine or self-quarantine when sick or exposed to COVID19. The majority of people long term social isolation, social distancing, or “physical distancing.” The latter is a term I like much better. Apparantly, the World Health Organization agrees. An in-depth discussion of such terminology was the focus of a recent article in the Washington Post.


This is key when interacting in society and with the people involved in various facets of our lives. When conversing with family (spouses, children, parents, etc.), doctors, employers, and friends, it’s important all parties make an effort to give and receive information which will result in clear understanding. This can be a particularly challenging matter for those living with MS. 

Cognition, speech, meds, and emotions can compromise communication. What we say, how we say it, and how our messages are received can make or break the conversational experience. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to communicate only to be misheard, misunderstood or dismissed completely. If problems with communication are ongoing and become chronic, the damage to our self-esteem and emotional well-being can have a devastating effect on our relationships and social interaction. There are ways to avoid such issues with some easy techniques and tools to help you develop better communication skills. 

Various tips, coping skills and other helpful tools to improve communication can be found in Allison Shadday’s book, MS and Your Feelings (available on Amazon). Shadday’s book specifically addresses the emotional pain caused by the unpredictable, chronic and often disabling issues pertaining to MS. Allison Shadday offers readers effective strategies for dealing with the psychological trauma of this disease. She shares real-life MS success stories and gives insightful professional advice derived from years of counseling hundreds of chronically ill patients. Her book offers readers hope, inspiration and validation, teaching them how to come to terms with an MS diagnosis; strategies for identifying and managing stress triggers; ways to cope with fear, guilt, anger, loss, depression, and isolation; steps to enhance intimacy and develop a greater sense of emotional security; and more. 


According to Daniel Aldrich, a professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern University, “efforts to slow the COVID-19 should encourage strengthening social ties while maintaining physical distancing.” A great example is when young people will run errands for elderly neighbors. This is practicing “social connectedness with physical distance.”

It’s the social ties that can help us get through the hard times. Whether it be natural disasters, illness, pandemics or other life altering struggles, we need to be there for each other, connected in some form of fashion. 

Social Media: People may be in isolation or “lockdown” inside their homes, yet social media changes the dynamic. Social media is a tool which can keep us informed, engaged and interacting with others. This can lessen the feeling of being alone and lonely. I’ve noticed a bit of an ebb and flow in activity levels on my social media platforms these days, yet I truly think people know if they need connection to feel less anxious or stressed there’s emotional support and friends available at the click of a button.

Virtual Chatting: Video chats are on the rise these days. They are a fantastic way to gather people together as a group or one to one. I’m finally seeing several people in my MS community willing to break out of their comfort zone and try out the various video chat platforms. For those who have yet to explore the world of video chats, I highly recommend you give it a shot. Zoom, FaceTime and GoToMeeting are a few of the most popular and reliable platforms to use (in my opinion). Video platforms are wonderful options for a more personal connection when bringing people together. Virtual meetings, parties and other gatherings are a collaborative, supportive way to bond with family, friends and co-workers.

Phone calls: Not everyone is tech savvy or an online user of social media. Remember the old days when we used to actually call people on the phone? Use this available tool and reach out to those who could use a call just to say hello, offer assistance, or just to let them know they matter. 

Social connections are crucial, necessary, and therapeutic for coping, rebuilding, and recovering. Who knows what the next days or months will bring. But no matter what, we are not alone. Reach out and encourage others to do the same.