Most of last week, I was down for the count with an upper respiratory illness that had more symptoms than I care to list and left me feeling like a wet piece of laundry on the spin cycle. There were days when I considered taking a shower an accomplishment and gave myself brownie points if I actually made it downstairs to the sofa. Thankfully, day five was a turning point and I’m back to my normal routine.
While my illness was short-lived, an extended illness or health condition, whether yours or a family member’s, is difficult to navigate and has a huge impact on your life. Extended illness or a chronic health condition changes everything.
Here are some things to consider about the impact of illness on forward motion:
Illness shrinks your world – For the person who is ill, or the caregiver, the world shrinks to encompass only the rooms associated with sickness. Many times, friends or family members disappear for a variety of reasons. Some don’t know what to say or how to help. Others don’t want to get involved, fearing they will be drawn into the vortex of illness and caregiving.
Illness changes your perspective – When you are healthy, it’s easy to talk about maintaining a proper perspective that allows you to move forward. But it is much harder to actually do when pain, deterioration, cognitive dysfunction, or immobility are involved. Whether your personal health challenge or a that of a loved one, perspective changes to daily or hourly hurdles and repetitious activities that are often distasteful and recurring. Victories are small, but precious and things that used to seem like a big deal pale in comparison to your current situation.
Illness desensitizes and creates hyper-vigilance – While these may seem diametrically opposed, illness dulls the emotions, and at the same time, hyper-vigilance increases. During the years that I cared for my mother, I remember realizing at some point that my emotions were totally flat. It was hard to generate enthusiasm for anything. On the other hand, I tried to anticipate everything that might occur and ward off anything that might make my tasks or my mother’s situation more challenging. At times, the smallest inconvenience made me feel like I was going to explode.
Illness challenges you spiritually – When you or a loved one are sick for an extended period of time, it not unusual to question God. Illness challenges what you believe about God and precipitates doubt. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you question God. It’s normal and He understands. Just make sure you don’t cut yourself off and fail to listen to Him speaking through scripture, a person who has consistently provided solid spiritual wisdom, or by the voice of the Holy Spirit. Those who are spiritually ill, who shun God’s comfort and strength, lose their greatest Advocate in dealing with extended illness, and in doing so, they lose hope.
For those who experience chronic or extended illness, and their caregivers, look for snatches of humor, sources of beauty, and moments of revelation. Nothing is easy about the journey of illness, but hope and prayer provide courage and comfort.
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I remember them well and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:19-23 NIV