Chronic Illness Articles

May 13, 2010

Chronic Illness and the Hurtful Things People Say

by Lisa Copen

We may find ourselves surprised to discover just how much we are the on the minds of loved ones who are around us. They may actually be concerned about us more than we admit in regard to our illness. So when they comment about our illness in a way that stings we are left wondering about their intentions.

We can try our hardest to not let the hurt feelings we experience bother us. We see that we need to acknowledge their heart’s concern.

There are moments, the “wounds from a friend can be trusted”, as it says in Proverbs 27:6. This is because the comments are completely communicated out of ignorance. The people we are counting on to be understanding are struggling to say whatever it is that can communicate their care. Their comments, however, just come out in a way that at times results in being interpreted all wrong.

It was 1993 when I received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis my life changed rapidly. Those individuals at my church body and people at work felt no reluctance in telling me their their thoughts about my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis –which I was without a doubt not old enough to have–in their ‘expert’ opinion.

As a 24-year-old young woman, living over a thousand miles away from the place I grew up, the decisions I was forced into making about the treatment choices felt serious and overwhelming. I meticulously poured through brochures and paperwork researching medications, therapies and alternative treatments.

I went out of my way to see specialized doctors, for example rheumatologists. I compared different drugs and their instant side effects, with the long-term results of choosing not to use certain medication.

The mixed up advice from people who had never even heard of my chronic condition felt like a personal attack on my level of common sense. I know that may sound as though I was too sensitive, however. . . that is how it felt. My emotional side thought “The nerve!’

I must admit, of those who casually shared ignorant statements, it is those that had their opinions about my genuineness of my faith that hurt the most.

Have you experienced what Proverbs 18:2 says is a friend that “finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions”?

When I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, seeking examples from others who had traveled this unexpected road, I researched the inspiring autobiographies of Christians who who had endured physically suffering, Joni Eareckson Tada and Dave Dravecky.

They have, and continue to hear, the same sort of comments and even insults, that I was told. I gripped onto the oath that the Lord was the only one who really saw my heart.

If strangers were able to share these heroes in the ministry of suffering regarding how they didn’t have enough faith to be totally be given the gift of healing, what made me believe that I was exempt from similar criticisms and skepticism? If you find yourself wondering if something is not right with you due to the fact that people tell you don’t have enough faith to be healed, guess what? You are not alone.

In addition, I’ve heard some rather derogatory comments, and it’s always a struggle to simply smile and say, “I appreciate your concern, but I don’t necessarily agree.”

Many times it feels as though everyone who is well, desires me to have a ministry for those who are healed or a ministry that tries to “get people healed” by demanding a certain formula that they think God uses.

Personally, I just don’t have a passion for a ministry that focuses solely on healing. Many of those already are available. And I would be thrilled to wake up tomorrow and find I was healed, but the zeal that God has called my heart to is a ministry where people are today– usually, still sick. I want to meet each individual wherever they are before they have experienced a healing. I want to be a part of in the ministry that stands by them if healing doesn’t comes on this side of heaven.

Through the organization I began in 1996, Rest Ministries, for the chronically ill I have been honored to have the chance to speak and exhibit to many audiences, including pastors and chaplains, as well as those coping with invisible disabilities. Always, however, I am vulnerable to being told, “If you had more faith you would get healed.”

Frequently people glance over the table of our resources and books and then say, “This is wonderful, but you should try ‘fill-in-the-blank-alternative-treatment-here,’ and then you would be healed, and then that could be your more helpful ministry!”

In some strange way, though I still to get upset with the limitations and a generation of my disease, I am just beginning to understand the Bible verse 1 Peter 4:13. It speaks of considering it “pure joy to suffer for Christ.” If this means that I will have to “walk the walk” (or someday wheel?), then I will do so.

And I am not alone in this regard. You may find many people with chronic visible and invisible disabilities confess that though they are not especially “joyful” about their circumstances they have discovered that life is more meaningful, even though bittersweet, due to the suffering they have experienced.

Yes. . . I hate pain! And I get tired of it. God does give us grace and endurance to get through another 24 hours. He also provided the Israelites manna so they could live one more day, solely depending on Him. I confess, like the Israelites, I have my moments I want to complain, “L-o-o-r-d, I’m tired of the manna!”

One will find, however, that as he grows closer to God the remarks people say will become much less important and they will slide off of us much easier than we ever imagine. Although there are days where it feels like people are purposely trying to say things that will bring us emotional pain, most often the pain they cause is not even known to them. Grow close to the Father and your faith in man will grow less and the emotions will not be so painful.

Does it feel like no one understands what you are going through? Author, Lisa Copen shares in her book “Why Can’t I Make People Understand?” more ways to get past the need for friends to empathize. Discover it today so your life can be overflow with joy, not frustration.

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April 16, 2010

Starting a Small Group? Who Will Come?

by Lisa Copen

As you begin to decide on the logistics of your support group, one of the first things to consider is who you would prefer to actually attend.

For example:

– Will your group serve men or women? Adults or teenagers? Or all of the above?

– Can you see your group being helpful for those who have just been diagnosed as well as people who have lived with an illness for decades?

– Do you feel comfortable serving seniors who live at home independently, as well as seniors who reside in assisted living?

– Don’t forget about the many people who live by themselves, plus, those who have large families.

– Will your group be an encouragement to those people who have caregivers in a paid position, as well as those who have caregivers that are family members?

– Will the group serve people who have very limited abilities and are bedridden a great deal of time, as well as those who are able to work full-time outside the home? People’s abilities will vary to the extreme and perhaps change frequently.

– Will there be something beneficial from your group for parents of very young children and those whose children are now in adulthood?

– Do you feel comfortable serving both those who are very financially blessed, as well as those who are living day-to-day on minimum disability assistance?

– Do you feel equipped to serve people who live with a chronic illness, but who also fill a caregiver role for someone such as an elderly parent or a child who lives with disabilities?

– When considering if your small group will have a Christian foundation, are people of any religious background welcome to check it out?

– Will your group membership be open to anyone at any time, or will you have only certain times of the year that new members can join?

As you can see, when it comes to chronic illness and lifestyle, there is no such thing as “typical.”

You may find yourself ministering to a man who is in his twenties. He looks perfectly healthy and even competed in your community marathon last year, but he has recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia (FM or FMS). Perhaps he is going through the emotions of not being able to do what he once did and being told he over did his training last year-and so it’s his fault he is now ill. He may even be teased that fibromyalgia is that “woman’s disease.”

And sitting in a chair next to her may be a man who was just diagnosed with a seizure disorder last week and he is confused and angry about not only his disease, but what is immediately being taken away, such as his ability to drive, coach his son’s T-ball team, and sometimes even perform his job.

Another factor to note: If you do not feel comfortable facilitating some people, you do have the privilege of announcing who the group is actually for at the beginning, since you are the leader. Although you may not wish to exclude anyone, many women, for example, prefer to lead a group for women only. Since there can be a great deal of shared intimacy and vulnerabilities within a support group atmosphere, and the divorce rate among the chronically ill is already high, you may wish to have preventative maintenance and not set up any awkward moments. It is important to remain confident in where your strengths and comfort zones reside.

As you are leading your group you don’t worry about specifically addressing every situation that has been mentioned above, however, it is vital to keep in mind the variety of backgrounds and experiences that those who are attending your group bring with them when they enter the room.

The more efficiently you are able to understand the personalities, the background, and the experiences of those attending your group, the easier it will be to facilitate the group. You will not only be able to just encourage the members who attend, but also point out their strengths, and in turn, help them pass that encouragement onto others.

If you are a small group leader or thinking of starting a group, don’t miss Lisa Copen’s new book, “How to Start a Chronic Illness Small Group Ministry.” Over 300 pages with step-by-step instructions on how to write a vision statement, promotion and attendance tips to what to do when everyone just wants to complain. Discover hundreds of resources at Rest Ministries .

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April 14, 2010

5 Priorities After a New Illness Diagnosis

by Lisa Copen

I remember the day my life shifted dramatically. I had had weeks of symptoms of swollen joints and inflammation beyond anything I’d ever experienced or even knew existed. My doctor called my place of work and said the rheumatoid factor was positive, which meant that at the age of 24, I most likely had an illness called rheumatoid arthritis. I bravely asked her “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being normal, what will my life be like?” She avoided the question, not wanting to give me a specific number. But I like to know what I’m up against and so when I asked her again she reluctantly responded “If you are lucky, perhaps a six.”

Now I knew: at the age of 24, my life would perhaps never return to where it was “before illness.” The word “normal” would be redefined. Simple activities like staying out late with friends, driving my car, sitting on the sand at the beach, or carrying a cup of coffee, would become an event and sometimes one I would be unable to complete. The carefree attitude and lifestyle that I had lived would always be overshadowed within the fog of chronic disease.

Recently, I received an e-mail from a woman who I went to small high school with of about 300 students–over 25 years ago. She had recently been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and while surfing the Internet to find information and encouragement, she stumbled upon Rest Ministries website and discovered that I was the founder.

We exchanged e-mails a few times and it is my hope that she found them encouraging. When I reflect on what I would’ve liked to have heard from someone who has lived with a chronic illness for years, upon my new diagnosis, these are the five things I find of most value to pass along.

[1] Contact the national organization or foundation that supports people who live with your chronic condition and explain to them that you have recently been diagnosed and would like their most basic information for someone with your illness. They may send you something in the mail, or direct you to your website. The important thing is to sign up for a membership to be on their mailing list.

Although you might feel as though you have not yet accepted the fact that this illness may be a long-term part of your life, it is important to go ahead and sign up for a membership to be on their mailing list. You can always toss the information or save it for later when you are ready to emotionally process it. But you will find that they will have the most current and objective information regarding scientific research and treatment options. As your doctor suggests medications for you to take, and you are reading the long list of side effects–and maybe questioning their judgment–these organizations will be your best source of information.

[2] Read about your disease, but know when to stop. Unless you have some rare disorder, you will find there is no shortage of information about your illness through millions of books, websites, podcasts, magazines, and more. It’s wise to glance over health and illness organization websites so that you have a good selection of credible resources to go to when you are reading for additional information.

You will want to know what some of the symptoms of your disease are so that if they do occur you will be aware that it is part of your chronic illness and not a separate chronic condition. However, don’t be tempted to try to read everything you can get your hands on, as it will simply depress you! Many of the symptoms that people describe may not actually be a part of your illness experience. You don’t want to get too depressed or discouraged over things you may not ever have to deal with!

[3] Don’t lose hope. As with my illness, rheumatoid arthritis, and most others, there are daily scientific discoveries that can change the of the disease. I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis for 16 years and just recently had four joints replaced in my left hand. My medical team, which includes a hand surgeon, rheumatologist, and physical therapist, all have commented that they rarely see these kinds of surgeries anymore due to the new family of drugs in the last 10 years that has slowed down the progressiveness and destruction of the disease.

Even if there is not an immediate cure, as we scientifically grow closer to being able to know our exact DNA, we will be able to pinpoint which medication will best treat our disease, without having to jump from one medication to another, losing months and years sometimes of our health, in order to find which one works best. Hope and a positive outlook will have a profound effect on your disease and your life. So don’t give up and assume that your illness will be disabling.

[4] Think about who you would like in your life to be able to talk to about what you are emotionally and spiritually experiencing due to the recent diagnosis. The person may be someone you meet in an online forum for your disease, it could be a pastor, mentor, counselor, or even a good friend who is able to listen without trying to fix it. The most important thing is that you have an oasis where you can share what you are experiencing without feeling like you may be judged or where you will receive ignorant comments such as “no pain, no gain.” Check out your local support groups for your illness, or other support environments such as HopeKeepers, which is a unique small group Christian support environment for those who live with illness or pain.

Also, consider your personality and how you are best encouraged. Would you feel most refreshed by sharing what you are going through with just a friend, one-on-one, at a coffeehouse? Or are you homebound, and signing onto a website every day to receive encouragement and prayer would be beneficial? Remember, whatever works best for you at this time, may not best meet your needs in six months, so do not feel like you are stuck with a particular group or mention. Be willing to try new forms of support to find which best works for you.

[5] Ask yourself “What foundation do I have in my life that will help me through the difficulties that I will be facing?” Even if your illness does not progress rapidly, the daily aches and pains, as well as the emotional roller coaster and spiritual “why?” questions you will have, will leave you searching for a deeper meaning in life than simply solving your problem with a cup of hot tea. As a Christian myself, I honestly do not know how people live each day with a chronic exasperating illness who do not know the Lord.

During those times this is what holds me together: knowing that my pain is never wasted; that God is ultimately in control and none of my circumstances surprise Him; and that He has a plan for my life despite the limitations I face and the goals I have that I may never meet. If you are not a spiritual person, when you are facing those middle-of-the-night-blues I encourage you to look up any Bible websites like Bible Gateway and read the Psalms. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that most people who live during biblical times face hardships, depression, doubts, and yes, illnesses.

Feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood? Don’t miss Lisa Copen’s book, Why Cant I Make People Understand? Order at WhyCantIMakePeopleUnderstand.com and learn why you feel the way you do and what you can do about it to make living with a chronic illness easier.

So to summarize, choose your information wisely, set personal boundaries for how much information you will read, keep hope, find a support system, and then search for that which will get you through the darkest of times when the information and people you have relied on disappoint you. You must discover a purpose in the pain that is greater than that which our world will tell you. Don’t ever put life on hold. As the late John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood? Don’t miss Lisa Copen’s book, Why Cant I Make People Understand? Order at WhyCantIMakePeopleUnderstand.com and learn why you feel the way you do and what you can do about it to make living with a chronic illness easier.

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October 11, 2009

Chronic Illness: How Much Do You Share with Your Spouse?

couple-cuddle“I feel like there are thumb tacks in my bed!” I say to my husband as he crawls into the other side of our bed. “I know there is nothing there, but I just feel bruised all over.”

“I’m sorry,” he offers with a sympathetic voice, but there is little else he can do.

“Actually, I sort of feel nauseous too,” I share. “It’s probably just the drugs. I wonder if I should eat something or if that would make it worse. I’m sure it will pass if I can just get to sleep.” I look over and he is already starting to snore.

For many of us, we have a deep friendship with our spouse. If we share a good relationship we want to share our deepest thoughts that are running through our brain. And even if our relationship isn’t as good as it once was, we may feel that by explaining a bit about the pain that we are experiencing, our spouse may actually understand our moodiness better and be a bit more loving.

Although we don’t want to burden them by constantly sharing about our aches and pains, when we are hurting there is a desire to be heard and have our feelings validated. By talking out loud about what we are feeling, it somehow makes the pain real. It’s no longer “all in our head.”

In the Bible we are told “Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Our spouse can play an important role in helping us cope with our illness by carrying some of the burden, but it’s wrong of us to assume that our spouse should be fully responsible for carrying it. We need to take our burden to the Lord and talk to Him about it, as well as find a close friend we can confide in.

Your spouse may not be in physical pain but he or she is still grieving many losses that we need to acknowledge can be just as emotional as our losses. Perhaps his coping with the loss of watching you lose your abilities to do things you love; he misses the fun things you used to do together as a couple that are now too physically demanding for you to do; he may be frustrated that even his hugs can be painful for you! Counselors have agreed that they typically see the same top three problems in marriages: money, time and physical intimacy.

Is your marriage suffering from changes in all three areas? Illness can add a burden to each of these. How can we learn how to “share our burdens” in our marriage relationship, and yet also realize how to set reasonable limitations on our expectations of what our spouse should handle?

Be a team with your spouse

Remember that the “team” is you and your spouse up against the illness. The illness is the third party, not your spouse. Yes, you will often feel that your spouse is the spectator in your life as you go through the ups and downs of your illness, but make him a part of fighting this battle with you in a way that he is most comfortable.

Ask your spouse if you can share some information about your illness so he has a better idea of what you are going through, but don’t overwhelm him. If he is willing to attend a few doctors appointments with you, let him, and give him time to ask the doctor his own questions. For example, giving him a brochure may be better than handing him a 250-page book. If he listens to podcasts, find some that would be beneficial for him to listen to. Acknowledge that there may be role or responsibility shifts in the marriage due to the illness. Be open about what you are struggling with and where you need help. For example, if you can no longer scrub that bathroom but, let him know before the grime gets out of hand.

Connie Kennemer who lives with multiple sclerosis shares, “I am not as mobile as I used to be and often ask more of my husband. ‘Can you work at home this afternoon? Why do you have to go to another meeting?’ etc. How much should he accommodate me because my body is changing? He doesn’t always know when to stop and encourage me to try things myself. This is a constant challenge.”

Reasonable expectations are a must

We often marry someone who has our opposite personality style. If you need to read every article about your illness, but your spouse doesn’t, it may simply be because your spouse has a more laissez faire attitude, not because he doesn’t care. His response to a crisis may appear to be nonchalant on the outside, but it doesn’t mean he is not worried and concerned about you.

On the other hand, maybe you take things as they come and don’t want to get on the internet and read every detail about the symptoms you may have. Your spouse may wonder why you aren’t more interested in finding out how to best treat (and even cure) this disease. He may go as far as to accuse you of being in denial about your illness. He may want to see you be more passionate about being healed than you are. A wonderful book that will help you smooth out some of your communication is “Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti” by Bill and Pam Farrell.

Have information about your illness available for when he is open to reading about it

If you are having a conversation and you want to explain more about how you are feeling, or details about the illness itself, you may want to have books with sticky notes on the pages you think he’s find most helpful. Or bookmark pages you can read together and then discuss. Connie says, “After ten years of living with MS, I am past the whiney stage, but Rex sometimes holds back; that’s when I need to ask him more questions about his feelings.”

Find ways to share about embarrassing parts of the illness

There are some parts of illness that are just downright embarrassing. For example, if you attend an event with your spouse, you may end up in the bathroom for eighty percent of the show. You need to let your spouse know this is part of the disease. But if you don’t want to talk about all those details it’s okay. He probably doesn’t really want to hear about them either. Most health organizations have brochures that list the symptoms of the disease. You can hand him one of these and say something like, “I’m trying to cope with some of the more personal matters of this disease right now, and I don’t really want to sit around and discuss them, but I also want you to be aware of them. This brochure explains them in case you are interested.”

Look for other ways to vent besides always dumping on your spouse

“I realized that I banked my frustrations of pain throughout the day and then ‘threw’ them at my husband when he walked through the door,” shares Cheryl, who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome. “I was setting the tone for our entire evening. I felt better getting it off my chest, but he felt worse, and it lasted all night. I could tell he was beginning to dread walking through the door.”

To rectify this Cheryl started to put aside the last couple of hours each day before her spouse came home write in her journal, pray or do something she enjoyed that was calming. “Writing in my journal gave me the chance to express my frustrations; prayer really began to minimize the negativity too. My husband quickly noticed a difference and it’s made our relationship so much stronger.”

Get involved in some new hobbies

How do you spend your time? A lot of time we may be talking about our illness because we don’t have much more going on in our lives other than trips to the doctors or to the lab. Get involved in something else, even if it’s just a couple hours a week. For example, volunteer to be on a prayer chain, start reading through the classic books you’ve always wanted to read, put together photo albums for your grandchildren. You will soon discover that even you aren’t that interested in talking about your illness when you have much more exciting things to share about.

Conclusion

So, the real question is how much is too much! There is no perfect answer, because it’s different for each person and each marriage. Practice being objective. How often are you bringing up your illness? How do you benefit from talking about it more often than necessary? Do you need validation? Understanding? Actual physical help with tasks? It’s not wrong to admit that maybe there are days we really do just want the attention from our spouse and this seems to be the only way to get it! How can we get some of these needs filled by God instead of our spouse? How is it negatively impacting your life, or those around you, by discussing it all the time?

And then take a moment to really ask yourself “Is there a better, more creative way that I can create intimacy with my spouse, other than just complaining about each ache and pain? What activities can I still share that could help us grow closer together?”

And then when you want to share about your pain, send up a prayer to the Lord beforehand: “Lord, I don’t want to burden anyone else with something they can’t fix, and I really need a hug from you right now. I know how much my spouse cares about me; please give me the wisdom to know when to ask for help and comfort from him/her and when to come only to You and ask you to fulfill all of my emotional needs.”

Don’t miss other articles and important support while living with chronic illness or pain visit Rest Ministries so you don’t miss our fresh content and be entered for our monthly giveaway. Lisa Copen is the director of Rest Ministries, author of “Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend” and founder of National Invisible chronic illness Awareness Week.

July 10, 2009

7 Outdoor BBQ Planning Ideas When You Are Ill or Tired

The grill saga
Image by kristiewells via Flickr

Whether you plan to serve steaks or hot dogs, having friends over for an evening of fun in your backyard doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just because you may have a chronic illness doesn’t mean you have to stop entertaining. Here are seven quick tips to entertaining outside without the fuss.

It’s fun to look at magazines that have perfect patios all prepared to entertain guests, but go easy on your self! Here are 7 quick ways to have a fun backyard BBQ bash.

[1] Invite your guests with an emailed invitation service online. It’s fast, you can send it out to everyone in minutes and they can respond immediately. They can leave a comment or see who else is coming. Another perk is that you can list any item that would be helpful for other people to bring and when they RSVP they can choose one or more. It doesn’t have to be just food either; it can be yard games (remember lawn darts?); extra chairs, special music on an ipod, or even paper plates.

[2] To clean up, focus on the outside. You can avoid people trekking through the front door if you put up solar-powered tiki torches and some twinkle lights, making a festive path along side the house. Toss any of your junk piles in the house to the back bedroom, spiffy up the kitchen and wipe down everything in the bathroom. Put out room fragrances that scent your house to smell like the beach, dim the lights and turn on a bunch of battery-powered tea lights. They are festive, but you don’t have to worry about flames anywhere.

[3] Bring the inside out. Pull out blankets, pillows, lamps with extension cords, and table cloths to make your deck or patio comforting. If you can do it easily, choose a theme.

[4] For food, decide what foods you could buy pre-made and then make them personalized. For example you can buy bulk potato salad or baked beans. Add chopped up celery, boiled eggs, and then sprinkle paprika on your potato salad. Add big pieces of bacon to your baked beans. For your meat, choose something simple where everyone doesn’t have to have it cooked their way. Ask a spouse or friend to grill, or grill in advance and warm it up on the grill at the end. You can also have an item like salmon. Wrap it in foil with herbs and oils and steam on the grill. Use some smoke-flavored wood chips to keep everyone drooling from the scent.

[5] Use paper plates and utensils. There are lots of bright colors at the dollar stores that will match your theme.

[6] Locate a teenager who wants to make $10 and let her be in charge of all the childrens entertainment. Set up the kids table and let them do some of their own activities, like making home-made ice cream and then having a toppings bar to choose from. Turn on the sprinkler or let them make a simple craft like sand art. If someone is feeling adventurous a treasure hunt prepared in advance is sure to be a hit with all ages.

[7] Skip fancy drinks, and provide a variety of sodas (don’t forget root beer and orange cream soda) and sparkling water. Have juice boxes for the kids. Throw a plastic table cloth over a wheel barrow or other bucket, dump in ice and arrange. Sit out a large self-serve container of unsweetened ice tea with some ice cubes pre-made with black berries and mint leaves inside for a fancy effect.

Lastly, don’t forget to sit and have a bit of conversation. Have fun! Don’t attempt to be the perfect hostess that no one sees. Relax and leave the clean up until the next day.

Lisa Copen is the founder of Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week held each year in Sept and featuring a 5-day virtual conference online. Follow II Week on Twitter for cool prizes and info. Blog about invisible illness on your site, be a featured guest blogger, meet others, read articles and lots more. Make a difference!

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March 27, 2009

Invisible Illness and Friends Who Don’t Get It: What to Do

by Lisa Copen

friends-women1If you live with an invisible illness, you may find the emotions of coping with people’s doubts about it can be harder to manage than the disease itself. Most of us with a chronic illness must eventually accept our condition. In order to live our best life, we need to educate ourselves about the disease and make well-researched decisions about treatment.

But we have no control over our loved ones when they choose not to accept our illness, or sometimes even acknowledge it. Their skepticism can last a lifetime and damage our self-worth and many relationships.

So, how do you cope with someone you love and care about won’t acknowledge the significance of your disease or even your illness at all? Here are four steps:

1. Go with it. Your life feels very serious right now, but don’t take your situation too seriously when around your friend. Unfortunately there is not a magical talk you can have that will make him instantly change his mind about your health situation. Most likely, the only way for him to rethink his perception of your illness is for him to observe you and your typical activities. Though your illness may be invisible, he may start to witness some visible symptoms. Perhaps you may have some new limitations, like being unable to walk a long distance; and rather than explaining what you can and cannot do, he might just see it.

2. Grow with it. Use this as a time to reflect on your own perceptions of people. When you are standing in line at the store and become irritated because “Surely no one here knows how hard it is just for me to stand!” think twice. Nearly 1 in 2 people in the USA have a chronic illness and about 96% of it is invisible, so the odds are that someone in line likely is experiencing the same chronic pain and fatigue. Also, what situations are your friends experiencing that you don’t understand? A child with a disability, the affair of a spouse, the loss of a job-all are life-altering and the odds are that your friends could use your empathy and support during this time.

3. Get over it. It is easy to obsess over the fact that no one understands what your daily chronic pain is like. Save yourself a lot of grief and don’t do it. We would all like a loved one to be able to slip inside are skin for twenty-four hours, but this level of understanding of our disease will never occur. If you began to resent people who don’t understand, soon all your friendships will be tainted. Do not take a friend’s lack of empathy personally, even though it feels personal. You cannot change someone’s mind; you can only control your own behavior, so make certain you have conversations that you won’t regret.

4. Get on with it. No material things in this world can replace relationships you have. If a loved one doesn’t acknowledge your illness, it’s true that the depth of your friendship will never be what it could be. But if the relationship is healthy in other ways, and one worth saving, you can keep it.

The odds are, at some point in your friend’s life, a health issue will occur and suddenly he will have a glimpse into what your life is like. Allow him to feel comfortable coming to you for support and encouragement and don’t use the opportunity to say, “I told you so.”

Go with it. Grow with it. Get over it. Get on with it.

Relationships with those who don’t understand the seriousness of your illness can exist. Be positive, accepting him for what he’s able to give to the relationship, and have reasonable expectations. Someday, this may prove to be one of your most special friendships.

This article is by Lisa Copen and can be reprinted at no cost, if you leave everything exactly “as is” including this footer. Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you sign up to receive HopeNotes, Rest Ministries weekly ezine. Also be sure to check out Hope Endures, Rest Ministries weekly radio program every Tues and National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week.

If you Twitter, be sure to check out Illness Twitters.

March 20, 2009

Minister to the Chronically Ill: 20 Ways in 20 Minutes

by Lisa Copen

girl-hug-bearRest Ministries, the largest Christian organization that serves the chronically ill, recently did a poll, asking “List some of the programs or resources a church could offer to make it more inviting comfortable” Below is a sampling of the 800+ responses.

1. Send out encouraging emails.

2. Make sure the handicapped stalls in the restroom are functioning and clean.

3. Add padded chairs or cushions to make church easier to sit through. Room for wheelchairs is always a need and don’t forget to include extra places for family members.

4. An open attitude for a support group like HopeKeepers. It would make me feel very special that there was an understanding of needs that are not always visible.

5. More disabled parking, even if they are temporary spots.

6. Educate the ushers that people arriving late may have difficulty walking or getting out of cars and will need some assistance.

7. Have a couple of people who could call chronically ill folks and check on them when they can’t make it to church.

8. When suppers are given, I need help getting my meal or at least understanding from others that I won’t be able to wait in a long line.

9. Be cautious when hugging. It may topple over or hurt a person.

10. Video tape of the service for DVD, don’t just do a live web cast. My computer doesn’t work that well.

11. Make sure that the church doors aren’t too difficult to open or at least have mechanical assistance if they’re unusually heavy.

12. Please don’t tell me that if I really believed and had faith I would be healed by now. And don’t insist how wonderful I look, because I know for a fact that I look terrible and miserable that day.

13. Offer me ways to serve within the church that can be performed regularly, but not on a set schedule. I still want to contribute, but I need some flexibility so that I can do a job when I feel well enough to do so.

14. Provide sermon notes in case I can’t make it to the worship service and want to listen/take notes later.

15. Acknowledge National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. Rest Ministries has a book list of top 100 Christian books for the chronically ill. Having some of those books in our church bookstore as a display would be a great outreach.

16. Just talk about chronic illness! Mention it in sermons as one of the challenges many people face just like unemployment.

17. Have Christian volunteers from church that will clean house for small fee.  Some have offered to clean my house, but I cannot accept charity yet, but neither can I afford to pay a regular house cleaning service.

18. Help with some of the small costs of providing encouraging books and resources for the church library the chronically ill can check out.

19. Remember there are lots of caregivers in the church–not just caregivers of parents, but spouses and ill children too.

20. Have copies for free of the sermon on CD.

This article is by Lisa Copen and can be reprinted at no cost, if you leave everything exactly “as is” including this footer. Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you sign up to receive HopeNotes, Rest Ministries weekly ezine. Also be sure to check out Hope Endures, Rest Ministries weekly radio program every Tues and Thurs and National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week.

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