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Having Struggles?

Having Struggles?

Here are some articles which you may find helpful if you are going through struggles. We will continue adding to these as we share them in issues of SPAG Magazine. If you have an issue or a topic that you’d like us to cover in an upcoming issue, please let us know. You can complete the form at the end of this page, or email us at: 

Can Christians Have a Mental Illness?

Five Key Ways to Support a Friend (or Stranger) With a Chronic or Invisible Illness

Good Grief: Coping with Chronic Illness

Happiness Habits – Articles on Learning How to be Happy:

  1. Keep a happiness journal;

  2. Forgiveness and friendship;

  3. Difficult decisions;

  4. Friendship;

  5. Understanding yourself;

  6. Putting off procrastination;

  7. Derailing Depression (parts 1-3)

Believers Who Suffered Depression;

Let’s Talk About Sex;

  1. Introduction

  2. Purity (or the world is not enough);

  3. Masturbation and celibacy;

Where is the Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Why Do I have Trouble Making Friends?

Tell us what topic or article you would like us to share in a future issue of SPAG Magazine:

Five Key Ways to Support a Friend (or Stranger) With a Chronic or Invisible Illness

Five Key Ways to Support a Friend (or Stranger) With a Chronic or Invisible Illness

Megan Schartner

by Megan Schartner

Introduction

When someone gets sick or injured, those around them tend to rally to support them. They send their well wishes, help out with food and household tasks that the person might be struggling with, and make an effort to check in on them. However, society also expects people to get better and recover from their illness or injury.

In fact, about half the population lives with an illness that is chronic, that is they will not get better quickly, and about 96% of those don’t have any visible signs of their illness. These people find that their quality of life can be impacted significantly by their conditions, and quite often they feel misunderstood by those around them.

There is a stigma surrounding many of these chronic illnesses. For example, mental illnesses are often misunderstood and discriminated against, and people suffering from chronic pain conditions are often told it’s all in their heads or that the pain can’t be as bad as they say it is. In fact, one in five people live with an invisible illness that causes chronic pain and fatigue.

Within the chronic illness community, people are working hard to remove the stigma surrounding invisible illnesses and to increase understanding and acceptance by others who don’t live with these conditions. There are many chronic illness advocates out there and each has found their own way to make a difference; we blog, publish books, create documentaries, and speak at events whenever we can.
Invisible Illness Awareness Week

Invisible Illness Awareness Week is an annual event started in 2002 by Lisa Copen, and is on from 26 September to 2 October this year.

Around the world, people use this week as a tool to raise awareness of the daily struggles and achievements of life with an invisible illness. Invisible Illness Awareness Week provides an opportunity to share our own stories with a wider audience through mainstream media and community groups.

Having read this article so far, you’re probably sitting there thinking this is all well and good but what has this got to do with me?

Well, given that one in five people live with chronic pain and one in two people live with a chronic illness, chances are that you know someone who does. You may not be aware of it, as many people don’t talk about their illnesses for fear that they might not be understood or because they just want to feel ‘normal’ for once, but there are people with invisible illnesses everywhere.

Person hiding in a lounge chair

These people find that their quality of life can be impacted significantly by their conditions, and quite often they feel misunderstood by those around them

Now that you know this, what can you do to help?

1. Don’t turn a blind eye or make assumptions about people.

It’s important to recognise that not all conditions are immediately visible, and some are not visible at all.

That young lady who parked in the disabled park, got out of her car and walked into the shopping centre? That’s me, and yes I need to use that spot. Just because I’m walking doesn’t mean I ’m not in pain or that I’ve actually got the energy to be there. Some days even a single step is agony or feels like I’m walking through mud. I have several chronic conditions, including Fibromyalgia and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

I look like a healthy woman in her 30’s, but on my worst days I can feel like an elderly woman in her 90’s. Let me tell you, I wouldn’t choose to use the disabled parking space unless I absolutely had to.

We may also turn down invitations to parties and outings. Being around a lot of people can be difficult for some, especially if they live with anxiety or depression. For others, like me, physical ability limits what activities we can do. Please don’t assume that we don’t like you or that we’re just being rude or antisocial. We all try our best and if we can make it, we do.

In saying that, we are still human beings with a need and desire to feel included and supported, so please do invite us out. Although we might turn down your invite ninety-five percent of the time, we appreciate the thought.

2. Acknowledge their illness and their struggle

A lot of the time, people with an invisible illness feel misunderstood and isolated. Simply acknowledging that you recognise what they’re going through can make a big difference in a person’s day.

Even if you don’t know if someone has an invisible illness, it’s possible to acknowledge it. You may notice someone that is struggling with a particular task or activity. For example, I have days where I have trouble focusing on conversations or I’ll walk into a room and forget what I was going to do there. Even if you didn’t know that I suffered from an invisible illness, it’s possible to empathise with me and acknowledge the struggle I’m going through without making me feel like I’m an idiot.

Instead of getting angry or frustrated at people when they drift in and out of a conversation, or ask multiple times how to do a simple task, take a moment to recognise that they’re struggling. A simple comment like “I see you’re struggling today” or a gentle touch on the shoulder followed by an “Are you OK?” can make a big difference in these situations.

If you do know about their illness, it’s possible to be more specific you’re your acknowledgement. When I have friends over, or I’m at their house, they often check in with me a few times to make sure that I’m not overdoing it. If we’re making plans they’ll tend to make them for during the day or early evening and we tend to meet up at people’s houses or at a quiet venue, so that I can participate without pushing myself too hard. Usually there’s a place I can go if I need to have a break and rest.

3. Take time to learn about their illness

If you do know someone with a particular illness, take the time to learn about it. There are many blogs online that you can read to find out more information about specific conditions and there are more and more books being published that can also help you understand.

Personally, I like to learn by reading personal accounts from individuals with similar conditions, or journal articles that look at the science behind the conditions, as well as children’s literature that is aimed at explaining conditions. I’ve included children’s literature because I often find that the simple language used is easier for anyone to understand.
When I first became ill with Fibromyalgia and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, I struggled to understand what the illnesses meant for my life. At the time there weren’t any children’s books available that explained what it meant.

Over the last few years a few books have been published that help explain specific aspects of these conditions, including “Why Does Mommy Hurt?” by Elizabeth Christy, which includes tips for children about how they can support an ill parent, and “How Many Marbles Do YOU Have?” by Melinda Malott. These books focus on explaining a parent’s chronic illness to their children, but the concepts they are discussing can be applied to adults as well.

4. Help them separate themselves from their illness.

An individual with an invisible illness should not be defined by their illness.

If you’ve taken the time to learn about their illness, and found ways to acknowledge it and their suffering, you have already taken the first steps to ensuring that you’re not defining the individual by their illness. However, sometimes they need help to do this themselves.

One separation technique that I’ve found useful is to personify my symptoms and to use these characters when discussing why I can’t do particular activities at any specific time. Because my illness is mainly defined by chronic pain and fatigue, the characters I’ve created are Foggy Frog and the Pain Gang. Each member of the Gang is responsible for a particular type of pain. If you, or someone you know, also lives with a chronic pain condition, you may find the Gang a useful tool to help with separating the illness from the individual.

By incorporating mindfulness of, and discussions around, how their illness impacts their lives it’s possible for people to separate themselves from their illness and find a way to live a simple, sustainable and meaningful life despite their symptoms.

5. Check in on them

As I said right at the beginning, when an individual is sick or has an injury, friends and family tend to check in on them. Those with chronic illnesses tend to get ignored or forgotten over time because they learn to hide their symptoms and make an effort to do normal activities despite them.

Even if they’re homebound and you’re busy, you can check in on them by giving them a call or sending them a message every now and then just letting them know that you’re thinking of them. This simple act can really help minimise the impact of isolation on those of us with invisible illnesses.

6. Offer help

Ok I know I said five key ways in the article header but this one needed to be added as well!

Many of us with invisible illnesses struggle with feelings of guilt about the level of help we need, even with the simplest of tasks, and we may not feel confident enough to ask for help when we really do need it.

We all need to interact with others, and even if we don’t have the energy to do much, it’s nice to have the company. Offer to drop around for a cup of tea or coffee and just sit and talk, or watch a movie or TV show. If they’re struggling, make the drinks yourself and allow them to just sit back and rest while you’re there.

When you’re visiting a friend with an invisible illness, take a look around and see if there is any obvious areas that they’re struggling with. Maybe the dishes or the washing are piling up, maybe there’s no food in the cupboard. Just ask them if they need help or offer to do a particular task.

Conclusion

Over half of the world’s population lives with a chronic illness. These illnesses are often invisible to those around them. Invisible Illness Awareness Week provides us all with an opportunity to open our eyes to what is going on, and to become aware of how we can support those around us.

It reminds us that it’s important not to judge others based on their appearance and what we think they can do, because we never know what they’re dealing with underneath the external facade. We can help those around us by acknowledging their struggles, taking time to learn about their illnesses and help them to separate themselves from their conditions, and checking in with them and offering to help in whatever way we’re able to. Invisible illnesses create a daily struggle and sense of isolation. By working together, we can make a difference.

[End]
Biography
Megan Schartner aims to live a simple, sustainable and meaningful life with chronic illness.
After being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Myalgic Encephalo-myelitis in 2013, Megan has dedicated her time to raising awareness of invisible illnesses and helping others to achieve a simple, sustainable and meaningful life.
She is the creator of the Foggy Frog and the Pain Gang Campaign, and launched the campaign with the associated picture book as part of Invisible Illness Awareness Week 2016.
You can find out more about her at Liveken.com or search for her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with @MegLiveKen.
You can purchase Megan’s book online “Foggy Frog and the Pain Gang” and help your friends and family understand the symptoms of your chronic illness
Links
www.invisibleillnessweek.com
www.liveken.com
Bibliography

Toni Bernhard, 2014, Psychology Today: The Extra Burdens Faced by Young People with Chronic illness, available: www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201403/the-extra-burdens-faced-young-people-chronic-illness, accessed 2016

Christine Miserandino, 2016, But You Don’t Look Sick: the Spoon Theory, available: www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/, accessed 2016

 

Good Grief: Coping with Chronic Illness

Good Grief: Coping with Chronic Illness

Vicki Nunn

by Vicki Nunn

Introduction

To the rest of the world, any person with chronic illness, particularly when it’s invisible, can sometimes appear to be faking it. We often don’t look sick. We may not be in a wheelchair or use walking-sticks or other visible forms of support to enable us to get about. We may have all of our limbs. We may seem too young, or happy or we don’t complain.

While our scars and our pain may be hidden, our struggles are very real.

People with chronic illness have to deal with many everyday issues due to their conditions, from medications and tiredness, or pain and physical restrictions, high stress, inability to perform normal tasks, lack of energy and much more.

An added and unnecessary burden is the many able-bodied and healthy people around them who are dismissive of them and their very real needs, and the effect their illness has on their everyday activities.

For many with chronic illness, there are long-term physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological impacts of which the world is often not aware. To those with chronic illness, it sometimes seems is if people around them don’t care about their struggles.

Things people say to us when we have chronic illness

Open image up for more details

What is Chronic Illness?

Generally a chronic illness is a condition that lasts a year or more. While in a small percentage of cases, chronic illness can sometimes be overcome or managed, for many people it is a condition they have to deal with for the remainder of their lives.

There are many conditions classed as a chronic illnesses and the effects vary from person to person. Some people are born with chronic medical conditions, while some may only have mild cases or the illness doesn’t progress very far.

For others, the illness comes later and has serious impacts upon their well-being and the way they live. Chronic illness can include conditions such as: lupus; diabetes; chronic fatigue; lime disease; glaucoma; heart disease; cancer; arthritis; epilepsy; haemophilia; kidney disease; asthma; Crohn’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; muscular dystrophy; and multiple sclerosis and many, many more.

Chronic Illness Impacts More Than One’s Health

Financially

One of the consequences of chronic illness is its financial impact and the stresses that result from that. Sometimes people can’t continue their studies or remain in employment which limits their income. Many have high medical costs including insurance, at-home-care, medications, operations, and the need for specialised equipment and even motor-vehicles and home renovations. Sometimes a spouse has to quit their job to provide full-time care for their partner which means that neither receives a decent income.

Sometimes the medical expenses have been so large, that people with chronic illness have had to declare bankruptcy. I can’t imagine how they manage after that.

Emotionally and Psychologically

The emotional and psychological impacts can be huge. As a result of their illness, once physically active people can lose their independence and sense of self-worth. They struggle with depression and feelings of inadequacy and may feel they are a burden to their family and friends.

Others who found their joy and purpose in their careers or their volunteer work, may struggle to find any kind of meaning once their lives are impacted by chronic illness. Some worry how they will manage in the coming years and the thought of the struggles they face may seem overwhelming. This is particularly difficult for single people who have no-one to care for them.

Younger people with chronic illness in particular, wonder if they will ever find someone to love them, or wonder if there is any purpose to their life.

Coming to terms with chronic illness and its impacts can be difficult for many people. Depression is common for those suffering chronic illness. While some Christians who enjoy good health think it should be easy for Christians to shrug off depression (or even suicidal thoughts), a person who daily lives with chronic pain, its restrictions, medications, tiredness and the constant worries about finances and concerns for the future – joy can be difficult to find, let alone sustain.

Living with a chronic health issue and its associated problems day in and day out, month after month and year after year, eventually take its toll. I’m sure even the fictional Pollyanna would struggle to remain cheerful.

For Christians, it may be difficult to forgive God or to understand how He can allow someone to suffer this way. This is particularly true when they’ve been obedient and had perhaps given up stable secular jobs to do His ministry and work.

Grief is Part of the Chronic Illness Journey

Coming to terms with the consequences of chronic illness, and its psychological and emotional impacts can contribute to the sufferer feeling grief. They may grieve for the life and opportunities they’ve lost, for their independence or even the chance for love.

Even if a person with chronic illness comes to terms with the impact the illness has on their lives, they may later discover further problems due to the progression of the illness which they hadn’t considered nor for which they’d been prepared. This can lead to higher levels of stress and new feelings of loss.

Younger Person’s Grief

For a younger person, there may be a sense of grief as they learn to accept the real limitations their illness has on their life. It may affect their ability to study, obtain a career or find love. They will see their friends living normal lives and grieve for what they are missing, such as the normal ability to go out and have fun. They may grieve for their lack of independence and their reliance on others for their everyday needs. They may grieve for a life without pain or restriction, or even the ability to communicate easily.

In many cases, young people may be stigmatised by others in their peer group and may face shame and ridicule and prejudice. One frightening statistic suggests that violent crimes against disabled people are on the rise.

Older Person’s Grief

An older person will feel much of what a younger person does, but for a person who has had a career and found a sense of purpose and joy through their work, their hobbies and other activities such as volunteering, the loss of these due to ill health later in life, can lead to extra feelings of grief such as inadequacy and loss of purpose and meaning. It can be especially difficult for them to see how their life after the onset of the illness can possibly be of any real consequence or purpose.

How Can We Show Compassion to Those with Chronic Illness?

We should understand that it may be especially difficult for someone who has enjoyed their independence to ask for help after their body and health betrays them. If we want to help a chronically ill friend or church member, just ask them to let us know how you can help, and follow it up, particularly if they seem dismissive or we suspect they’re refusing help out of a sense of pride or even fear that others may think they are troublesome.

Please don’t offer, if you really have no interest in following through with it. Being let-down by someone who offers to help, may reinforce their belief that they’re a burden and it may make them less likely to ask for help when they need.

Also, don’t expect that it’s easy for those with chronic illness to perform everyday functions that healthy people take for granted. A great example of what this actually means is given by Christine Miserandino with her “Spoon Theory” (see below):

Spoon Theory

What is the Spoon Theory? It is difficult for healthy people to understand why day-to-day activities can be so challenging for people with a chronic illness, eg, getting ready in the morning can take an enormous amount of energy.

Most people with chronic illness or disability have a much more limited amount of energy than healthy people and therefore have to choose into which activities they place their energy each day.

Christine Miserandino came up with this theory when a friend asked her how her illness impacted upon her life.

You can find out more about the Spoon Theory on Christine Miserandino’s webpage on this link.

Churches and the Chronically Ill

Life with a chronic illness can be challenging physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. It impacts every single area of our lives.

Few churches seem to know how they can help those in their congregation with chronic illness. Sometimes it seems that churches almost forget about these parishioners, particularly those who can’t attend regularly due to their condition. Perhaps they assume that because they aren’t regular attendees that they aren’t serious in their church or Christian commitment which is often far from the truth.

The reality for many with chronic illness is that oftentimes there are specific reasons why they do not attend regularly:

• they are not well enough and/or are in too much pain to attend;

• they have to choose between attending church and another activity;

• simply don’t have the energy to both attend church and do their normal everyday chores;

• didn’t sleep well enough to attend church; or

• feel invisible and/or ignored and uncared for in their church.

Often it is those with chronic illness that need more support from their church family than many others. That doesn’t necessarily mean that someone needs to turn up at their door every day offering to cook, clean or mow, but at least a regular monthly visit or fortnightly phone contact will ensure that the ill person doesn’t feel isolated or that they are looked upon as someone of little value, or a burden.

We should understand that people with chronic illness contribute to God’s kingdom in a variety of ways. I personally know of people who have their own ministries and are a great source of encouragement for their brothers and sisters, and there are others who are amazing prayer warriors. But even those who are too unwell to contribute in such a way are still valuable in God’s eyes aren’t they? Perhaps it’s time then to reconsider the value of those in your church with chronic illness.

Could your church create a group of volunteers who can put aside a couple of hours a month to reach out to those in their congregation with chronic illness? Has anyone within your church even bothered to ask the person/family what specific needs they have?

When was the last time your church instigated a program like this? If you’re healthy, when was the last time you considered volunteering for it? Don’t be one of that group of regular church-goers who give little if anything of themselves, who seem to expect everyone else to do the work.

It is part of Jesus’ command that we love one another. I don’t ever recall the Bible verses saying that we should love one another “only when it suits us,” or “when we’re in the mood,” or “when it’s easy,” or “those tasks were meant for someone else to do.”

Why Does God Allow Us to Suffer?

If you are suffering chronic illness, it is perfectly natural that you may experience a grieving process. Be aware that as you go through your daily struggles, you may not ever quite come to terms with the impact on your health, mind and spirit. As your illness progresses, you may find there are times when you still have to readjust to new losses and problems.

Remember though, that God sees it all, and even when you feel that you’re alone, this is when Jesus is standing right beside you, His heart filled with compassion and love, His arms stretched about you.

It is difficult for us to understand why God would allow such terrible pain and suffering, especially when we’ve been faithful. We should realise that it’s not some form of punishment, nor as a result of our disobedience. The fact is, pain and suffering always have been and always will be part of the Christian journey.

All we have to do is look back at early church history to see that from the first, Christians have suffered: Paul’s journeys were fraught with danger and difficulty. Church leaders in some of the very churches that he established, later resisted his guidance. Most of the disciples and many early Christians were martyred for their faith. Their lives were not easy physically, financially, relationally or emotionally.

Conclusion

Because we are Christians, it doesn’t mean that life will be perpetually good, problem-free or that we will always feel happy. While others around us may not seem to suffer pain or ill-health, it may seem unfair that we are burdened, but we should remember that it’s not a form of punishment from God.

I say to people that for me it’s “part of the package deal” from God. I jokingly say, “God made me pretty amazing in every other area of my life, so He had to find a way to balance that out.”

While we may never understand why God has allowed this to be part of our journey, we can choose to resist God every inch of the way and stay angry and resentful, but that will not change the situation. Instead it will keep us mired in our depression, hurt and anger, and our relationship with God will suffer as a consequence.

Alternatively, may I encourage you to pray for strength to make it through each day – just one day at a time. Focus on what you can do in the short-term. Ask for courage and to regain your joy. Tell God about how you’re feeling – He won’t feel angry or upset with you. He won’t turn His back on you if you admit any negative emotions towards Him. Jesus Himself understands where you are coming from because of His own personal experiences and suffering as a human being.

Perhaps through your struggles, you will become a powerful leader for God, whether as a prayer warrior or through a ministry, or you may inspire others with your courage and grace. Perhaps instead, your simple, quiet faith will be motivation for others to persevere during their own trials and struggles.

So …. hold on! Just hold on and keep going. Perhaps there will be days when all you have to grasp onto is God’s promise that one day you’ll cast off this broken body and be made brand new.

Even if your life feels grey because of illness, there’s no grey in your relationship with God. His unwavering love for you shines as brilliantly as the brightest rainbow. You are His own child. His heart aches to see your pain.

You aren’t just another face in the crowd. He hears your voice – He personally knows your voice – because you are His beloved!

Bibliography

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201403/the-extra-burdens-faced-young-people-chronic-illness author: Toni Bernhard 2014

http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/ author: Christine Miserandino 2016