Sometimes I feel like people are judging me negatively because they can’t see my illness and don’t understand why I’m not doing more. I know there are people who believe that if I just did one thing or another I wouldn’t be sick or feel depressed any more. It’s a hard thing to deal with sometimes when certain people think they know everything about me and then proceed to tell me about my own experience. In some ways it reminds me of the story of Job in the Old Testament.
After Job lost everything his friends came and gave him all kinds of advice about what he needed to do to improve his situation. They told him that his problems would vanish if he would just repent and look to God. At one point Job responds to his friends by saying, “But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?” (Job 12:3).
There may be times when we are condemned by others who don’t understand our lives; however, we know more than other people may realize because of what we have been through. We have learned valuable lessons from our illness that we could not have learned in any other way. Hopefully we’ve met an understanding person along the way and our spirits have been able to rest for a moment. From that experience we know the value of a kind word and the need to be an understanding person for someone else.
What do we know because we’ve been sick that we could not possibly have known otherwise? There are important truths that we prize because they have come at a cost. When chronic illness stops the main flow of our lives we think about the meaning of what we are going through, and of what the people around us are taking for granted.
As soon as man does not take his existence for granted, but beholds it as something unfathomably mysterious, thought begins.
We are strong because we’ve learned to be more sensitive to our own feelings as well as the feelings of others who are suffering. We have empathy for those who are dealing with sorrow, pain, and grief. We know that endurance isn’t just a word to describe someone who keeps going in the face of adversity, endurance is everyday life.
We’ve learned that what may appear to be a common occurrence to someone else is a small miracle to us because our pain has given us the perspective to see beyond the ordinary. We have a relationship with hope that grants our survival.
What if the depth of our depression was the measurement for the extent of joy we could feel? We know what it feels like to have a long sought after ray of light pierce the darkness and bring us hope. We have learned the power of a moment in darkness, but more powerful than darkness is a moment of joy.
Our illnesses have taught us about humility when our physical strength has been depleted. We aren’t as self-sufficient as we’d like to be and it takes faith to find the strength we need to carry on.
The words that carry weakness to our minds are deceiving, but our hearts know strength. I know there are times when it feels like our hearts are failing us, but that’s when we diligently search our souls to call upon our memories of hope. We’ve made it through before and somehow we find the strength we need to step into our own personal stories.
“Affliction comes to us all, not to make us sad, but sober; not to make us sorry but wise. It is trial that proves one thing weak and another strong. A cobweb is as good as the mightiest cable when there is no strain upon it.”
Henry Ward Beecher
We are strong because our illness necessitates our being strong. When I was a kid my grandpa would sometimes take me to the sales yard with him. The slightest nod of the head, scratch on the arm, or pointing at something interesting could have placed a bid on a sheep, pig, or cow. The auctioneer probably would have overlooked a squirmy child, but that isn’t what my grandpa led me to believe. I was afraid to move a muscle and sat as still as possible because I believed it was absolutely necessary. Living with chronic illness gives us strength simply because it is necessary.
We are sensitive to kindness because we know what it feels like to be misunderstood. We are grateful for simple joy because we know darkness. There are some of us who have a personally meaningful relationship with God because we know mind-numbing pain. We are strong even though people looking into our lives may see us as weak.
Nothing has more strength than dire necessity.
• How has your personal experience with chronic illness given you strength?
When I was growing up my family would go to Langdon Lake the first weekend of every August to celebrate my dad’s birthday. My sister and I would catch tadpoles in a paper cup and take them home, put them in a fishbowl, and wait for them to turn into frogs. They always died. We flushed them down the toilet.
The next August we would be back at the lake catching tadpoles in a paper cup. We’d take them home, put them in a fishbowl and wait for them to turn into frogs. You could say we were chronic idiots for thinking those tadpoles were going to morph into frogs before our eyes, but I think we were chronically hopeful.
That’s what we do with chronic illness, isn’t it? We hope for each day to be better than the one before and we keep pushing through even when it feels like the things we hope for have been flushed down the toilet.
When illness comes into our lives unexpectedly we have to find the strength to keep moving through each day. The challenges that come with the chronic part of our illness can be especially trying because we have to deal with them again and again. We have similar experiences with our illnesses, but the main thing we have in common is our hope.
The way we perceive our illness influences the way we cope with our situation in life. While we are trying to cope the best way we can there will be instances when we feel like we have to explain what it is we are going through, and that is a difficult task. We will most likely have to deal with misunderstandings, but that doesn’t mean our stories are not significant.
The depression that accompanies chronic illness is a lesson in grief. We may feel defeated with failed attempts at hoping to be healed, but we are not alone in our sorrow. We can feel relief for a moment when we know that someone else understands how we are feeling. Day by day we keep going and there is meaning in our lives while we are in the midst of trying to feel better.
We are strong because we’ve lived with adversity and have learned certain truths from our experiences. We understand more than we otherwise would if we had not become ill. We know about pain and joy, grief and hope, sorrow and miracles. We have learned about ourselves, about the meaning of life, and we have done so with humility. Our hearts are strong because they know affliction and have had daily exercise in climbing up and beyond our pain.
The apple cannot be stuck back on the Tree of Knowledge; once we begin to see, we are doomed and challenged to seek the strength to see more, not less.
*Thought questions from chapter about Illness*
Section 1: The chronic part of illness
• What are some of the most important lessons your fatigue has taught you?
• When do your symptoms most greatly affect your feelings of hope?
o How do those feelings change from one day to the next?
• What can you say to others that might help them understand what it feels like to have an illness that is chronic?
Section 2: Depression
• What do you think people who feel depressed have in common?
• How do your feelings about your illness affect your level of depression?
• What are some of your coping strategies that help you feel a little bit better?
Section 3: Strength
• How has your personal experience with chronic illness given you strength?