The decline in quality of life we experience with POTS is comparable to someone with congestive heart failure. So it isn’t surprising that our social lives, frankly, suck. Finding friends that understand when you have to cancel is incredibly difficult. Finding friends who understand to the point where they don’t insist on activities that include standing, alcohol, or being out in the heat seems to be impossible.
Last Monday I tried to go out with friends and ended up puking in the bathroom and sleeping in the car. Then at a small party this weekend I was feeling terrible and had to keep going outside so as to not throw up. I fainted in the hallway, was in a ton of pain, and just all around felt awful. When I came back my partner made a comment on how I was missing out on everything. Well that comment hit me really hard. It really does feel that way.
I try and go out with friends and about a third of the time I feel too terrible to enjoy myself. Almost every single time I am around people I feel isolated by the pain I’m in. I do miss out on things with my friends, and most of my friends have left me behind altogether. The worst part is that I am not alone, and that most of us with POTS feel this way. In fact, 98% of us felt like POTS gets in the way of a social life.
Does POTS prevent you from socializing as much as you’d like?
So what is there to be done? Humans are social creatures and not being able to socialize is a huge detractor from quality of life. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution, but there are things that may help:
1. Educate your friends
Unfortunately this only works if you have really awesome friends. A lot of time my attempts to educate fall on deaf ears. Some of the resources I have found most helpful are the spoon theory or this condensed and easy to understand information from Dysautonomia International. Being clear about activities you can and can’t do is essential. People aren’t going to make the connection that if you are heat intolerant you can’t go to an amusement park in the summer (even though it seems obvious to us), or that if over-stimulation messes with your POTS a 3D movie is really going to make your symptom worse. Being clear about what you can and can’t do helps a lot with understanding.
2. Push yourself, but not too hard
About two thirds of the time when I push myself to do something social it ends up being fantastic and I don’t regret my choice. I may not feel well, but being around friends keeps my mind off of it and finally getting to feel slightly normal. It really makes a world of difference in my mood and ability to deal with my illness. That is why I say push yourself, but not too much. We all know what happens when you use too many spoons.
Every single time I want to go out it involves “pushing myself.” Even getting dressed and ready is a huge accomplishment. I don’t think people around me realize that, but i wish they did. You are the only one who can gauge what you are up to doing.
3. Join online support groups
These have been so helpful to me and lots of other chronically ill people. Just go to Facebook and search for your condition. Be aware that some groups may not be private and you may want to make an alternative account.
4. Join in-person support groups
There are a few of these scattered throughout the world. It definitely helps if you live in a big city. If you live in Denver or Colorado message me on Facebook and I will add you to our group. Finding just one other person to chat with occasionally can be really helpful!
5. Try Meetup to find people who get it
Meetup is great for finding general chronic illness groups. People in the group may not have POTS, but they know what it is like to live with similar problems.
6. Suggest Activities that Work for you
The default with my friends is to go out to bars when we want to hang out, but sometimes that is too difficult. Standing, driving, drinking, and (for some reason) bar-stools are not things I do well with all the time. A lot of times your friends may be completely happy to binge watch Netflix or have a movie night in and all you have to do is ask. Suggesting things you can still do instead of cancelling is a great way to stay social. Sometimes it is hard to ask because it feels like you are expecting others to accommodate you, but if you have good friends they will be happy to spend time with you no matter what you are doing.
7. Don’t Worry About Being “the sick person”
This is a difficult one and I really need to work on taking my own advice. You may have read my post about being temporarily paralyzed after an injection. Well that weekend I had a social event that I really wanted to make, but couldn’t walk. I bit the bullet and went out in a wheelchair. Using a wheelchair when you only need it is so confusing to people for some reason, but I recommend it wholeheartedly. Using a wheelchair makes going out so much easier because it takes away from the standing and walking usually involved. I got a lot of questions, but I don’t mind those from friends. People were surprisingly eager to help. I didn’t feel like the “sick girl” either. My friends and acquaintances seemed to talk to me as a person, and not talk down to me as someone in a wheelchair which I was worried about. Plus I got to wear heels without falling on my face- added bonus.
Fear of fainting is another barrier to going out. Fainting in public is not fun. People assume you are drunk, freak out and call and ambulance, give you terrible and unnecessary CPR (and sometimes break bones), or literally step over your unconscious body. So it is understandable that 44% of have a fear of fainting in public that prevents us from going out. My recommendation is to carry these cards, wear a medical bracelet, make sure any friends around you know what to do, and not to go on first dates or hang out with complete strangers unless you feel great. Always remember you can turn down an ambulance ride; they will try to convince you to go because they won’t understand POTS. That is why it is helpful to have a friend who knows about your condition and will stand strong in not letting them take you to the hospital.
POTS-related barriers to socializing
|Unable to stand
|Fear of fainting in public
|Unable to drive
|Fear of needing bathroom too often
|Unable to shower or groom properly
|Unable to drink alcohol
8. Be Honest About your Needs
I should not have stayed at the party this weekend. It ended up with me feeling ever worse and I wish I hadn’t been stubborn. If you feel awful, rest. The fear of missing out (FOMO) can be a hard thing to deal with, but it is better than making all your symptoms flair. My friends joke that everything crazy happens right after I fall asleep, missing out sucks, but what else can I do but laugh at it?