DEALING WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS OR INJURY
Being diagnosed with a chronic condition can turn your world upside down. If you are injured or have an accident, your life can be changed in an instant. These are losses that need to be grieved. In the days, months and maybe years to come, you will learn to adapt to that "new normal" that I've talked about in other areas of this website. You may need to re-adjust your life and your capabilities within the parameters of your illness or injury. You may need to re-learn skills that will require long periods of rehabilitation. Perhaps you'll be forced to rely on others if you have lost some of your ability to care for yourself. Some will need to learn to pace themselves or possibly learn to re-prioritize responsibilities. If you have an illness that leaves you with half the strength or energy that you used to have, then perhaps spending time with your children will become a bigger priority than having a perfectly cleaned home. All of these adjustments and losses can be incredibly frustrating. There will be days, (especially in the beginning), when you'll react with anger. Some days you'll react with tears. More than likely, on many days you'll react with both anger and tears! If your ability to work is altered or you are hit by mounting medical bills, your financial stability might be affected. This is just another change or loss that might be grieved. When confronted with illness/injury, it is possible to suffer multiple losses as a result of one major loss. As with the grief and loss caused by divorce or death...the more losses you encounter, the more grief you'll experience and the longer the process to adapt to those losses.
When I was twenty-nine I had a miscarriage. While in the hospital I developed a staff infection that wreaked havoc on my immune system. Within a year I was totally bedridden and sleeping twenty-three hours a day. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Within a few more years, I had five more auto-immune diseases and multiple other conditions. I have learned about living with pain, fatigue and life changing illness. Through these things, I've learned about what's important and what's not. I've learned to cherish the good days and take nothing for granted. Every time I see a new doctor, they usually comment on how well I am doing considering the multiple disorders I have. I attribute this to several things...God's grace, my faith and my attitude. I have mentioned attitude in other topics on this site. A positive attitude is important in so many different areas of our lives. Happiness is a choice. It is not dependent on our circumstances or the way we feel. It is determined in our hearts and minds. You must choose to find the joy in your day... choose to focus on your blessings. Acceptance of your circumstances and health situation is crucial. It does not mean you are giving in or being defeated by accepting your situation. You are simply saying to yourself, "okay, this is what I have...now let's deal with it." We need to accept what we have and then set out to live our lives the best way we can, within the parameters that we are given. It is not always easy and I don't want to give the impression it is. I am mainly discussing chronic illness here and that is what most of this topic is geared toward. There are "unseen illnesses" and then there are major physical disorders and injuries. There are many who are suffering from injuries who may be paralyzed or bedridden. Perhaps you have lost limbs, eyesight or hearing. Maybe you're suffering from a degenerative disease such as ALS or CP. There will be different losses and different levels of adjustment for each person pertaining to the conditions you are dealing with. You may grieve and have to deal with losses as they multiply with a degenerative disease. However, one thing remains the same for everyone...regardless of your situation or circumstance, disease or injury. With few exceptions, the two things that are in your control, are your attitude ( how you choose to deal with your condition or injury) and your faith.
Another piece of advice I can offer, is to research your condition. Research your medications. Research therapies that are available. At one point I was taking sixty pills a day and under the care of eight specialists. The anti-inflammatory medications I was taking, were starting to cause bleeding ulcers. I was developing multiple side effects from all the medications. I started reading about natural alternatives. I started taking evening primrose oil instead of the anti-inflammatories. I was able to get off most of the prescription drugs. I have been off almost all of the prescription medications for about fifteen years now. I'm not anti-pharmaceuticals. Sometimes they are necessary and they can be life saving gifts from above! If there is a natural alternative, that is just as effective as a prescription, my personal preference is to take that and not deal with side effects. I share a lot of natural alternatives in the links on this site. I am not a doctor. I am not prescribing anything to anyone. Some natural alternatives don't interact well with certain medications, so it is imperative to speak with your doctor before self medicating! I am just offering some alternatives to make others aware of the information. Every person must do their own research, and check with their own doctor's, to determine if these alternatives are right for them.
It can be hard to live in pain. Pain wears on a person. It is fatiguing, especially if you can't sleep because you're in pain. It can make you irritable and less than patient. If you're sleep deprived, it just exacerbates everything. It can be discouraging and it can leave you longing for life to be different. You wouldn't be human if you never had discouraging days. Everyone has to find a way of coping that works best for them on those days. It is easy to become depressed and to lose your sense of worth and value when your life has been drastically effected by affliction and adversity. A person can find themselves wondering what their purpose in life is, when all they do is spend their time sleeping, resting or dealing with pain. Rest assured, you have a purpose and there is a plan in place for your life! God can use anyone, despite their circumstances if they are willing! In fact, all throughout the Bible, God is shown to use people that seemed unlikely candidates to do great and amazing things!
My father has been disabled for over twenty years. He has been little more than bedridden and he has been in horrible pain daily, for that twenty years. He spends most of his time in a dark room, as noise and light make his condition worse. My father is an amazing prayer warrior. He has a purpose and has seen countless prayers answered. He has been an example to me and many others of how to live out his faith in the midst of affliction. (My mother has been an example of how to stand by someone in sickness and in health)! It is incredibly difficult to watch as someone you love suffers. It is hard to understand what good can possibly come from someone being in agony for such a long period of time. You may feel that way about yourself and your own pain. This is where faith and trust comes in. I know we will never have all the answers to these questions while here on earth. The only thing we can do is take one day at a time. Sometimes, it's one hour or one minute at a time and we pray. We draw close to our heavenly Father. We seek His comfort and His wisdom for those times when no earthly answers are adequate.
Long term illness takes it toll physically, emotionally, financially. It's hard on the person who is experiencing the health issue. It is difficult for the whole family at times...it certainly has an impact on everyone, that is for sure. We all must try to deal with it in the most positive way possible. Illness affects the well spouse.The well spouse might suddenly become a caregiver. They might find themselves now married to someone that is a shadow of the person that they wed. It can be hard on the children. Maybe they are no longer able to go out and do fun things together. Maybe it is hard to carry on as a family, doing normal "family" type things. This new reality also has a far reaching impact on friends. It is important to educate yourself, educate your immediate and extended families and educate your friends as to what you are facing and to what your "new normal" entails. You will need to re-think your expectations for yourself and teach others about what they should now expect from you. You have to let people know what you need. A support system will help you deal emotionally with all you are facing. It is very normal, though painful, for friends and family to pull away when there are no quick fixes or easy answers. People feel helpless. They might not know what to say or do. Just something as simple as asking "how are you" becomes difficult for both the person asking and for you and your immediate family, when the answer is always the same, with no changes for the better in sight. If you can help people to understand what you're going through, if you can tell people what you need, it will make everything easier for everyone. Try to find an on line support group or support list for whatever issues you are dealing with. If you're not up to it, ask someone to do it for you. This way you can keep up with what works for others in the same situation. It's a way of finding new treatments, new products etc. that might help you. No two people are the same. What works for one person does not always work for another. Just knowing that from the beginning, alleviates much disappointment. It should also be noted that family and friends will more than likely go through their own grieving process for what they have lost as a result of the illness or injury. It is often a good idea for them to also seek out support as they learn to adjust to their new normal.
Some of the other things that helped me, are the same things that helped me when I was grieving my divorce and all the changes that brought into my life. I read a lot or listened to books on tape or sermons. I listened to inspirational and motivational stories by others who also had struggles in their lives. I memorized scriptures that related to where I was at. I would meditate on those scriptures when I wasn't up to reading or listening to something. When I have been in pain and stuck in bed for weeks on end, I made prayer the focus of my day. It helped me take my mind off of myself and put it somewhere higher... beyond the pain.
A woman that has been an inspiration to me since my teen years was Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her family were sent to German prison camps for hiding Jews in their home during the war. Corrie survived, but her father and sister did not. Corrie was in one of the worst situations imaginable, but she drew ever closer to the Lord in the midst of such horrible suffering. Her message of hope was, "there is no pit so deep, that God is not deeper still." She also shared, "joy runs deeper that grief." She did not rejoice in the misery and suffering in that prison camp, but she was able to rejoice in Jesus, who was in the midst of that prison camp with her. Whatever you are facing, you are not alone. Jesus knows your pain. He knows your suffering. He knows when you feel discouraged. He knows when you are unsure of how to face another day. He knows when you feel frustrated by your physical limitations. He knows when you are angry at Him and at life because of your suffering. Be honest and be open. Come to Jesus. Lay your burdens and cares at His feet. Ask Him for the strength and courage to face your affliction. Ask Him to show you a way through your suffering...He will do it. I pray for the Lord's blessing to be upon you and your loved ones as you press on. One day we will have new, glorious bodies that will be free from pain. That is something to look forward to! "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:4
I offer this prayer for you now...
For the person reading this right now, I ask that you would reach down and touch them and give them comfort. I ask you to pour out your grace upon them. I ask that you would give them some relief from their pain and symptoms. I pray that they would find peace for their souls. I pray that they would find physical respite from their suffering, even if it's just for a little while, so that they can continue on. If they are weary, I ask that they would find rest. If they are lonely, I ask that you'd bring people to share your love and your compassion with them. Bring people to stand along side them. I pray that they would have the best doctors and that you would give their doctor's wisdom to know the best way to treat them. I pray Lord, that you would provide for them financially. Please meet their needs that way. Lord, I know you love each one of us and that you want the best for us. If the person reading this is struggling with doubts of faith because of their adversity, I pray that you would speak to their heart. Show them the truth of your love for them. Bring someone into their life that will speak your words of truth, love and compassion to them, so they will know just how much you care for them. Help them to see past their pain and their infirmity to find that fullness of joy that comes from you. Please meet their every need. Give them hope to carry on, Lord... In Jesus' name... Amen.