How do I remember how to act normal while my normal life is on hold?
April 2, 2010 4:35 PM   Subscribe

How can someone who never leaves home and who is dependent on others keep her social skills from deteriorating?

I have been on modified bedrest for over a month now, and it looks like I’ll be in this situation for at least a few more months. This means that I should be mostly horizontal most of the time. It also means that I can’t do a lot of things that are usually part of my everyday life, such as lifting anything that weighs more than, say, a hardcover book or being on my feet long enough to cook a big meal.

I am dealing with not going out except for doctor visits, not being physically active, keeping myself busy with things that I am allowed to do, and working from home. However, I’m concerned that my social skills are getting rusty. For example, I find myself far chattier (and far more off-topic) than usual during phone calls for work and a bit more self-centered than usual in conversations with friends and family.

The people who I see are usually doing something for me when I see them. My parents have been making long trips to my home so that they can drive me to doctor appointments. Mr. TEA has been doing the home-related stuff that I used to do. Friends who come by bring food. I am very thankful, and I thank them profusely, but then I end up rambling on about myself and my exciting life on modified bedrest.

Y’know that aunt you have who has been living alone for twenty years, who expects you to run errands for her, who never stops talking about her aches and pains, and who seems to get weirder and crankier every time you see her? That’s what I’m worried about becoming. Granted, I’ll be back to something more like my normal life by autumn, but autumn is a long time away, and I’d rather not have to go through an awkward re-entry period when the time comes.

What advice for making conversation, being a thoughtful friend and coworker, and being a gracious hostess do you have for someone whose face-to-face social contact is very limited? How can someone who is alone at home for most of the day remember how to be social? How can I keep myself from becoming annoying to the people who are going out of their way to take care of me?
posted by TEA to Human Relations (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I know this may sound a little out there, but have you considered meditation? If your condition requires you to basically sit for most of the day, you may wish to spend some of that time 'sitting.'

Thing is, one of the primary objectives of meditation is mindfulness, not just during meditation but in all aspects of life. Your question appears to be asking how you can be aware of how you are treating people, and the first answer that occurs to me is (at the risk of sounding like Obi Wan Kenobi): 'be mindful.'
posted by Pragmatica at 4:44 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You seem like a very nice person whose social skills are just fine. The fact that you're worried about it is the best indicator that you won't deteriorate too far. People like that usually completely unaware of their social limitations or inadequacies. Just treat people like you would if you weren't incapacitated, and remember to show and express interest in THEM rather than yourself. They're already interested in you and your well being or else they wouldn't be there helping you in the first place.
posted by Nicholas West at 5:03 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could blog all the self-centered stuff to get it out of your system; then when visitors come, you can converse in a more balanced way. Also, be sure to keep up with the topics your friends are interested in, tv shows, etc so that you've got more to discuss than your health.
posted by xo at 5:20 PM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was in a similar situation at one point. I think the reason I got chattier/off-topic/self-centered was because I was experiencing so much of my day alone, and so all these notable things (things I usually experienced and thus discussed in the moment with other people) kept piling up until I began inflicting piles of conversational tidbits on the people I did come in contact with.

I decided I needed to get that stuff out gradually, so that I wasn't storing it up. I kept a journal by my bed and spent time writing in it every day--not so much Dear Diary as I saw the most beautiful leaf this morning.

There are other ways people do this--twitter and personal blogs, for example--and those are often mocked for making people more self-centered. I don't know from experience, but I wonder whether they help make some people less self-centered, because they let us release some of those stored-up tidbits. And they fix the problem (if it is one) of a journal, because they enable us to write where other people can read, so we feel less like we're shouting into a void.

Plus, if you want a place to discuss daily events with other people, you've got Metafilter!
posted by sallybrown at 5:21 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep posting to this board. Have IM conversations with friends and family while they're at work. Catch up with friends regularly through Facebook. Get on the phone once in a while. Play around with Second Life or similar virtual universes. In short, leverage the wonderful technologies at our disposal to communicate with others without having to be face-to-face, and be the nice, pleasant person you normally are when you're face-to-face. You'll be fine.
posted by davejay at 5:26 PM on April 2, 2010

Start playing the MMO game of your choice (WoW, or whatever).

If you have a common condition causing your bed rest, you can probably find a message board of people with similar problems--talk to them, they also need someone to talk to!
posted by anaelith at 5:34 PM on April 2, 2010

"For example, I find myself far chattier (and far more off-topic) than usual during phone calls for work and a bit more self-centered than usual in conversations with friends and family. "

This sounds absolutely normal for someone who is isolated and who is going through something medical! It's seriously a big part of why new moms can talk about NOTHING BUT THEIR BABIES -- they're lonely, something huge happened, we process huge things by talking about them. Your family, friends, and probably even your co-workers will forgive you for being a little self-centered and off-topic. I presume when they go through something, you have patience with their ramblings while they work it out of their systems!

Lots of good suggestions about blogs and whatnot, but personally, if I were your friend, I'd come over specifically so you COULD natter at me about all your stuff that's going on. I'd know that we'd get back to a more balanced talking relationship later on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:16 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My partner is sort of in your situation. He has been ill and basically housebound most of the last year. I take him to the doctor. Other than that, I think he's been away from home perhaps 4 times since last summer, going out to eat when he felt strong enough.

The way that he stays sane and maintains social skills is to talk on the phone to family members and close friends. He also uses the Internet to some degree, though he isn't as comfortable reading and typing as he used to be. Although he's not really making new friends, he's investing a lot in maintaining deepening the ties that he has. He does have to work on being patient with people who have busier lives and aren't always there to talk or to return phone calls.

As for being a host/ess, we have one physical therapist who visits him once or twice a week. Although he obviously has to talk with her about his health, we both try to chat with her about family, gardening, dogs, her vacation, the holidays, the weather, whatever, basically all the usual stuff you might chat about with any friend. Even if it's just a minute or two, you make a point of doing some small talk just to feel "human" and to make the visit more pleasant, for yourselves and for the care provider. (The other day I was at the dentist office and I asked the hygienist about her nail polish, not that I would ever wear any...)
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:25 AM on April 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for your kind, thoughtful, and helpful responses. There are lots of good ideas here that I will put to use in the coming months. I really appreciate your help.
posted by TEA at 9:20 AM on April 4, 2010

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