AN EXPERT AT BEING STUCK AT HOME WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS
I am not an expert on many things, but I can confidently say I am an expert on staying home. Many years of living with chronic illness has given me lots of practice.
Pain, fatigue, and other symptoms require me to pace myself. While I can currently leave my house most days for at least a short time, this has not always been the case. For many years, leaving the house happened once or twice a week, and even now I have to carefully decide how often it is safe for my body to venture out.
Spending a lot of time at home has not necessarily become easier over the years. I don’t enjoy being cooped up. I dislike missing out. At the same time, I have had no other choice than to learn how to live within this reality.
Many people who are accustomed to unrestricted freedom have been encouraged or required to stay home due to the coronavirus. I’m not here to offer any thoughts on who should stay home or when you should stay home, I’m only here to offer thoughts on how you might respond should you find yourself in this situation.
If you aren’t used to staying home for long periods of time, the thought of being quarantined might make you feel stir-crazy. Nobody wants their freedom taken away. Staying home can be difficult on your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Should you find yourself in this situation, I want to share some thoughts from my experience that may help.
Here is what I have learned about coping with the many difficulties of being stuck home with chronic illness when I would rather go out.
GRIEVE WHEN NORMAL LIFE IS CANCELLED
If this sounds like an overstatement, perhaps you underestimate how difficult isolation for long periods of time can be. Losing income, cancelling vacation plans, missing church or school, and not being able to see your friends are real losses.
When losses such as these accumulate over long periods of time, it can be devastating. It is good to recognize that some of the distress we feel when forced to stay at home may be grief. What’s more, our grief is not something to be ashamed of or to stuff inside, but to process out loud. (Psalm 31:9-12)
STUCK AT HOME WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS: LIVING IN THE REALITY OF WHAT IS
Instead of dwelling on the unfairness of not having what was “supposed” to be, I have learned to live in the reality of what is.
When cooped up at home, some of our distress may be grief, and other parts of it may be bitterness. Staying home feels unnatural and unfair, and in a sense it is. We were not created to stay cooped up, but to cultivate the earth. (Genesis 2:15)
Even so, it is important to live in the reality of what is instead of pining over what we wish could be. As you spend yet another day at home, it may be important for you to let go of what you think you “should” be doing today, and instead, embrace what God has placed in front of you.
1. I have learned to move much of my socializing online.
While the rest of the world talks about the pitfalls of social media, people living with chronic illness have held onto it as a lifeline. Some of my best friends dwell online, and my relationships with them are no less real or valid than the ones I cultivate in person.
Would it be more ideal to socialize in person? Of course. But meaningful friendship can be developed through technological means. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are just the beginning. Video and voice messaging apps are other great options.
2. I have learned that the sacrifices I make to stay home are not just for me.
Leaving the house has consequences. I experience increased pain and other symptoms. Sometimes it leads to decreased mobility and difficulty keeping up with normal tasks of life. This doesn’t just impact me. It also impacts other people.
This means that when I decide I’m going to leave the house, I have to factor beyond my own needs and desires. If going out today means I can’t go to work tomorrow, I probably need to reconsider that decision, because it will affect people other than myself.
Here’s the hard reality in our current situation. If a doctor asks us to stay home or an expert suggests we avoid certain areas or forms of travel, it is selfish not to listen. By ignoring these instructions, we elevate individual desires over the good of our communities and we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Romans 15:1-3, Mark 12:31)
Perhaps you are not afraid of becoming sick, but what about the people around you who are elderly, immunocompromised, or have underlying health conditions? Are their lives and wellbeing not worth the inconvenience of staying home?
3. I have learned to make use of times of solitude and silence.
Jesus modeled that we need both community and solitude to flourish. (Matthew 14:23) Our relational tendencies determine which of these comes more naturally, but we all need both.
If being alone comes naturally to you and you can imagine nothing better than a whole week to read or knit, that’s great. Make use of this time. If it doesn’t, perhaps this is the unwanted opportunity you have needed for a long time.
As difficult as it may be, spend some time reflecting. Journal. Spend time in your Bible. Write out some goals and plans for your future. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” If these introspective activities are difficult for you, just do your best. Perhaps they will feel more natural by the end of your time at home.
4. I have found creative ways to stay busy.
Some of my greatest accomplishments would never have happened if I had not been forced to stay home. My blog and my two self-published books came into being because I needed something, anything, to keep my brain occupied. What could you create with a few extra hours, days, or weeks of time?
5. I am learning to settle into uncertainty, find peace in chaos, and take one day at a time.
I can’t say this lesson has settled into my soul, but I am working on it. If you are forced to stay home today, pause for a moment. (Psalm 46:10) Take in a deep breath in. Breathe out. Feel your body relax.
Close your eyes and allow yourself to experience whatever is present in your body and mind at this moment. Allow yourself to feel sadness or loss or whatever else you feel. Remind yourself that God is present. (Psalm 139:7) God is working in this. (Romans 8:28)
Then, watch Netflix. Take up a hobby. Look for online work to do on the side. Read that pile of untouched books. Bake a cake. Play with your kids. Take a break from the news. Call that family member you keep meaning to call. Write a letter. Sit in the sunshine. Put your phone away for 24 hours. Start a blog (yes, people still read them). Eat a piece of chocolate. Find joy in little things (Psalm 4:7), and seek to be faithful in each moment – good or bad – as it comes. (1 Peter 4:19)
When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.
First published at Life in Slow Motion. Published with permission.
Author and Licensed Counselor
Esther is a licensed biblical counselor, who writes about her experience with chronic pain. She uses her website, to encourage people facing physical and mental illness challenges. She is the author of Chronic Illness: Walking by Faith, But God, Wouldn’t I Be More Useful to You If I Were Healthy?, When Chronic Pain and Illness Take Everything Away, and The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care. Esther lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, Ian, and their dogs, Bella and Bug.
Physical symptoms and limitations change all aspects of life, leading to losses and to unique challenges that are difficult to navigate. Discover encouragement and practical applications showing you how to release guilt and shame, ask for help, balance work and rest, and get through days of difficult symptoms.