Chronic Illness Articles

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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July 16, 2009

You are Too Young to Be That Sick!

Typisches Röntgenbild einer Rheumatoiden Arthr...
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At the age of twenty-four, a thousand miles away from my family, living in a new city, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Over a period of four weeks and about eight doctor’s visits, I finally found a physician who listened to me explain my symptoms and in less than two days I had a diagnosis.

Despite the terms “chronic” and “forever” I felt relieved to know the label that described my chronic pain. Few of my friends, however, shared my enthusiasm for a diagnosis. The managers at my office were more concerned about the fact that I wasn’t wearing heels to work anymore, making me look less professional.

They quickly threw comments about such as “You’re too young to feel this bad!” Most people were confused about the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and typical degenerative arthritis that our grandparents may suffer from. They ignorantly said things like, “There is no way that you can have arthritis yet.” Those that did try to offer sympathy compared my fatigued and pain to their sports injuries. “Yeah, I have some arthritis in my knee from football. You just have to keep pushing through the pain.” It wasn’t unusual to see their comments accompanied by the wave of their hand or their rolling eyes.

When you are faced with a chronic illness in your twenties, all of the typical decisions you should be making are quickly put on hold. Up until now, you were considering what kind of education to pursue, your career aspirations, relationships, and even where you will live. All these are put aside, however, as you are forced to make immediate decisions that impact the rest of your life. Things like how well you accept (or do not) accept the diagnosis of your condition, which medications to try, when side effects are worth the risk and when they are not, and how to find the right physician. While friends are deciding which party to go to we’re at home trying to make sense out of our latest lab test results, weighing our options for alternative treatments, and deciding to have a good cry or just go to bed and hold back the tears one more night.

I did my best to make well thought out decisions, each of them based on thorough research, some instinct, and of course, “worse case scenario” situations. So when I heard someone flippantly tell me, “You’re too young to be diagnosed with that illness” it felt like a slap to my intelligence. I recognized it as a passing ignorant comment, but it it my heart deep anyway. Did they assume that I was ignorant or that I too easily accepted the doctor’s diagnosis? They comments implied that I wasn’t being assertive enough and that I needed to go back to the doctor to get the “real” diagnosis (of an illness that could be cured in a few weeks with just a pill.) I couldn’t really be that sick, after all, because I “looked so good.”

Laurie Edwards, a woman who grew up with a chronic illness as a child is the author of ‘Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties,’ In her book she explains, “However infuriating and irrational such comments are, they only have the power to define or validate our conditions if we allow that to happen. There are all sorts of reasons why people find it easy to scorn or deny illness, especially in younger people who ‘should’ look and act healthy – fear, ignorance, intolerance, to name some.”

The saturation of advertisements on television and in magazine for prescription medications has helped legitimize some illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. There are downsides, however. For example, everyone considers her self an expert on the, plus they make their assumptions about how well the drugs work based on the ads. The advertisements show people with debilitating illnesses (healthy models, actually) who are astonishingly now able to water ski or join their kids on 300-foot water slides. While a certain percentage of people may experience remission, the majority of us are happy to be able to get up out of bed without assistance, get dressed, and drive to the grocery store. Ads and commercials fail to alert people that though an illness may be temporarily controlled, they are usually associated with immense daily chronic pain.

With any chronic illness, most of which are invisible illnesses, there will be people who will be skeptical about how much your life is impacted by your condition. When you cope with an illness while in your twenties or thirties, and you “look healthy” they will have even more hurdles to jump over to get the fact that for you to feel better requires more than an attitude adjustment or a daily walking regimen.

Instant download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you signup for HopeNotes invisible illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the coordinator of Invisible Illness Awareness

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