The Value of Simply Being, With No Distractions

Social isolation brought on by chronic illness has its challenges as well as its opportunities.

man sitting looking at blank canvases gallary museum

Sometimes being alone with our thoughts is a creative and nourishing way to pass the time.

Grant Faint/Getty Images

Several years ago, I was back in Manhattan after a long break.

Manhattan had been a place I loved visiting and working in, on and off, since the 1980s. My visits went from once every few months to once every few years. The strobe-light effect of my less and less frequent sojourns to this dynamic and fast-paced city became ever more apparent: New York City was moving and changing at a pace well beyond what my MS-shortened strides could keep up with.

On this particular trip, in aid of the National MS Society (sometime in the early teens of this century and after I’d abandoned the use of mobile phones), the old city of loud social (and antisocial) interactions had been replaced by a society of people looking down at their phones and plugged into earbuds, nearly oblivious to the bustling metropolis in which they were existing.

It seemed to me that no one was just, I don’t know … “being” anymore.

What It’s Like to Just ‘Be’

A couple of weeks ago I met a colleague for a cuppa to catch up on a volunteer project. I had the correct time written in my diary, but in my head our meeting was a half-hour earlier than it was in reality. I arrived “on time” in my mind but soon realized that although I’d gotten the right day and venue, I was 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

So I sat with my tea (I waited for the scone until she arrived) and just, I don’t know … “was.”

Some people rediscovered this quiet space during the COVID-19 lockdowns. People with chronic illness may have had it forced upon them as the world moved on without us.

Either way, if used properly, this unproductive time can be some of the most rejuvenating and, honestly, productive time, if we relearn to use it.

At one time people sat (or stood) in New York City and waited for their bus or train and didn’t listen to podcasts, update their social media, and make dinner reservations simultaneously. They simply let their minds wander, and the oddities of the city around them allowed their minds to wonder.

Being Alone With Our Thoughts Can Be Scary

The social isolation that can be brought on by chronic illness and its knock-on effects can leave us with gaps in our days and weeks that we often strive to fill with something — anything — to avoid the quiet.

Let’s face it: Sometimes those quiet moments alone with MS can be the scariest and most difficult to deal with.

It’s natural, I suppose then, to try to fill them, even if it’s with television, radio, podcasts, or reading. Not that those pastimes are bad in any way. But if we don’t occasionally give ourselves permission to unplug from all of that input, then we mayn’t hear the thoughts that are stifled by the noise with which we seem wont to cover them.

It Can Also Let in New Sounds and Observations

Anyone who has read my writings about MS over the years knows that I am not one who believes that MS “gave” me, “taught” me, or “allowed” me anything good. If anything is better after MS it’s because we did it in spite of the bloody illness.

That being said, multiple sclerosis, COVID lockdowns, social distancing, and so many other aspects of living in the 2020s has afforded us time and space to just, I don’t know … be.

Are you taking advantage of those moments to just listen to the birds and, by extension, listen to the songs of your soul?

Have you found yourself trying to fill the silent times with literal and figurative “noise,” so you don’t have to deal with the adversities that MS has visited on you?

Are you spending time wasting time because that game of internet solitaire is less intimidating than sitting in a room alone and just thinking?

In the Stillness, New Ideas and Potential Arise

So much of what I saw as my potential was erased by this disease. Everything changed. If I don’t allow for the quiet moments when ideas I didn’t even know I had bubble up from seemingly nowhere, I’m wasting more than time. I’m wasting my new potential, and that’s something I no longer have the luxury of doing.

Quiet, still, and alone. They’re frightening words to some, particularly those early in their diagnosis or in adjusting to the MS-induced slower pace of life. But if you make friends with (or at least the acquaintance of) those states of being, you may find yourself rewarded for the (lack of) effort.

Wishing you and your family the best of health.



My book, Chef Interrupted, is available on Amazon. Follow me on the Life With MS Facebook page and on Twitter, and read more on Life With Multiple Sclerosis.

Important: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not Everyday Health.