Chronic or Crisis? How’s Your Support?

If you have a crisis in your life and need a sympathetic
ear, I’m your gal. I have loads of empathy—and maybe some unasked for words of
advice—for you as you deal with your problem. However, if you are still
wallowing in the same problem months or even years later, I’m just not
interested. I can’t seem to muster up the enthusiasm to care. I find myself
wondering why you’re still in that place.

I’m not proud of those feelings. I’m just telling you how I
am. I have a short attention span for pain and problems. I would never make it
as a therapist.

So is it ironic or simply a lesson in maturity from God that
I have a chronic illness? Maybe it’s both. I’ve actually had this illness for
24 years, but when it only flared up once in 4 or 7 or even 11 years, it wasn’t
a big deal. It didn’t feel chronic; it felt like a crisis. I would be
incapacitated, even hospitalized. I would be given large doses of steroids. And
it would be over, and I would be back to life as I knew it.

Now life as I know it includes chronic symptoms or, at
least, daily medicine to keep chronic symptoms at bay. I have to make decisions
around it, choosing what I can and can’t do. It’s rare for it not to come up in
conversation. And yet I am very fortunate in how much I can do as I learn from
the daily lives of others dealing with chronic illness.

Just like when you buy a new car you suddenly notice that
car model everywhere on the road, when you have a chronic illness you suddenly
become aware of how many people have one. According to the CDC, “In 2005, 133
million Americans—almost 1 out of every 2 adults—had at least one chronic
illness,” and “one-fourth of people with chronic conditions have one
or more daily activity limitations.” That’s a lot of people with problems.

Now, those numbers include those with heart disease, cancer,
diabetes and even chronic back pain. It also includes autoimmune disorders (the
family of disorders my illness fits in) like lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid
arthritis. Everywhere I go lately I hear of someone having an autoimmune
disease, including two pastors’ wives I talked with at a meeting recently.
It includes ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which a missionary
friend of ours has been diagnosed with. The MS a dear friend has also falls
into the chronic illness category.

Maybe I just never paid attention before. Or maybe it’s just
that people with an invisible chronic illness tend to only open up to another
victim. Maybe they’ve met too many people like the me of the past, who got
bored of their “complaints” and just wanted them to get over it.

Yet people with chronic illnesses need to talk, to share
their pain. The risks of not doing so are tremendous. According to the website
National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week (which takes place in September of each
  •  The divorce rate among the chronically ill is over 75
  • Depression is 15–20% higher for the chronically ill than for
    the average person.
  • Various studies have reported that physical illness or
    uncontrollable physical pain are major factors in up to 70% of suicides.

 So how can you help people dealing with a chronic illness?
  • Be willing to listen (when you ask how they are and they say
    fine, ask again and say you really want to know).
  • But also talk about things other than the illness.
  • Smile.
  • Provide times of laughter and fun.
  • Recognize their need for rest (and don’t make them feel
    guilty about it; they’re doing that enough on their own).
  • If they have kids, give them a break by taking the kids.
  • Offer to clean house for them.
  • Let them know about Rest Ministries, an organization that exists to encourage those dealing
    with chronic illness.
  • Support their specific illness walk or fundraiser.
  • Consider starting a Hopekeepers Group or some
    other support group/Bible study for those with chronic illness.
  • Pray with them and for them.

I’m still not that great at long-term illness, in myself or
others. But I am learning to listen, to ask the right questions. Hopefully you
will, too, and hopefully without a chronic illness of your own.

And if you have other ideas on how to provide support, especially if you have a chronic illness (or a loved one does), please add a comment with your idea. Thanks.


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