I’m not sure just what I expected from a life with chronic illness, but if I’m honest, I’d hoped I would have something valuable to offer – like words of encouragement, answers about how to live well, a positive attitude, hope and joy oozing from my soul.
Yet in the last two months, I have been assaulted on so many fronts. The battle with chronic illness has taken on new dimensions and new depths, and instead of insights, I’m filled with more questions and uncertainty.
Compassion, Complaining and Comparison
I refer to these questions as the 3-C’s: Compassion, Complaining and Comparison.
Compassion has a real cost. I often believe I’m OK with accepting the price of being there for others, of offering kindness and support, of being like the Energizer Bunny – going, going, going, of ignoring the pain and exhaustion of body and mind to appreciate the moments of service and love I offer to others. However, when my body, mind, and spirit quit, and the pain is too much, I’m left wondering, “Was I was really willing to pay the cost?”
Complaining is what I believe I’m doing when I express that I’m unwell or in pain. I think most people genuinely care, but lack true understanding. The old saying, “You’ve got to walk a mile in another man’s shoes,” seems all too accurate. And I’m left wondering, “Should I be silent or authentic?”
Comparison is another ugly trap I find myself in. I minimize this life with chronic illness, pain and limitations, and sometimes others do too, suggesting that I should be grateful, “because things could be so much worse.” I could have a more debilitating ailment. But a friend once told me, “Pain is pain.” My pain is real. And if that’s true, is comparison really helpful?
A family member, also chronically ill, is experiencing more frequent flares while trying to lead a “normal” life. Yesterday my dad started his first round of radiation and chemotherapy. My mom has suddenly been thrust into the leadership role in their marriage after 50 years of my dad being the strong one. A dear friend won’t, or maybe can’t, respond to questions about how she’s feeling, because it’s simply too hard to share the difficult reality right now.
I ask God why all these things are happening then almost immediately pause and wonder, “But why not?” We live in a fallen world. Scripture tells us, “In this world, you will have trouble.” John 16:33a
I ask God why I can’t simply be joyful. Some pray, “Search me, O God,” but today, I’m afraid of what other suffering God might allow. So instead, I’m asking myself, “What does true strength look like in the context of chronic illness?”
Gratitude and Community
When days are difficult, I find I’m compelled to say “thank you” for simple acts of kindness – someone holding the elevator door, a receptionist offering a warm welcome, a nurse or a doctor being patient with our endless questions.
Those two simple words change my attitude, soften my heart, and begin to shift my perspective.
Perhaps it isn’t answers that are necessary. Perhaps what really matters is sharing life whatever our circumstances.
“What does strength look like in the context of chronic illness?”
Executive Director and Co-Founder of Chronic Joy®
Pamela, a leader and a visionary following God's call to inspire those affected by chronic illness, mental illness, and chronic pain, believes that every precious life affected by illness is both vital and purposed.
Pamela is the mom of three married children, a grandma of four, and a wife of more than 30 years. She is diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos, chronic migraines, and a host of other chronic conditions. She enjoys hot tea, reading, and walking her teddy bear dog, Cocoa.