Coping with Chronic Illness
by Laurie Glass
It almost seems that dealing with a chronic illness takes the strength of a fortress, the courage of a lion, the endurance of a soldier, and the patience of a saint. It may feel overwhelming to deal with different ways your life is affected.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to deal with an ongoing sickness that has no cure and only limited, or even no treatment. But there are ways to cope.
Talk to God as if He’s sitting next to you. Be candid, even raw. He can handle your authenticity. He’s the One who knows you fully and loves you unconditionally, so lament when you need to.
If you aren’t sure what to say, you can pray Scripture passages. Perhaps some of David’s cries in the book of Psalms accurately reflect how you feel. As your Father, the Lord wants you to share your needs, fears, doubts, and hardships with Him.
You can also rely on the Holy Spirit’s prayers, mentioned in Romans 8:26, 27:
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.New King James Version
And remember that listening is also an important part of prayer. You may hear God through the Holy Spirit, Scripture, other people, your conscience, thoughts, or a sense in your spirit. So open your mind and heart to His responses.
Be gentle in how you see yourself. You likely have a lot of challenging thoughts and emotions to process, losses to grieve, and difficult decisions to make. This isn’t the time to judge or put undue pressure on yourself. While it’s disappointing not to do what you wish you could, it’s important to discern what you realistically can do. Remind yourself that you’d do more if you were able.
Understand that having limitations doesn’t diminish your value as a person. While your body may not be strong anymore, you can be strong in other ways. In time, as you’ve processed all that you’ve been through, you can focus on further developing your inner strengths.
Grieve what you’ve lost. When you lose things like the ability to work, engage in social activities, or even take care of yourself, it’s normal to grieve. Perhaps you’ve lost relationships with people who question whether you’re truly sick or don’t understand how profoundly your illness affects you. You may have unfulfilled dreams because sickness interrupted the path you were on.
Grieving isn’t only for what you had and then lost. It’s also for what you didn’t get to experience in the first place. It’s normal to mourn what could have been. In either case, give yourself time to process what has happened, find ways to cope, and find meaning going forward.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to feel about getting sick. Be honest about your emotions, and release them in healthy ways. You might want to talk with a counselor or someone else you trust, or write about what’s going on in your heart and mind.
Journaling can be a helpful tool. It provides a secure place to explore thoughts and emotions. You can express yourself through drawing or creative writing and pen your prayers. Whatever you decide, remember that your journal can be your safe place to talk.
Once you move through the grieving process, you can ease into acceptance. And remember what acceptance does and doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean you wanted to get sick or that you’ve given up on getting better. It means you recognize it happened, it might be permanent, and you’re trying to find your way forward.
Explore avenues to move forward with your life in spite of the challenges of being sick. While it will be different than what you anticipated, your life still matters.
Listen to your body. Respect your body, and pay attention to what it tells you. When your symptoms worsen, slow down or stop what you’re doing if you can. Sometimes you may notice that it doesn’t feel right to do something, even though you can’t explain why. Your body might be trying to tell you something, so pay attention to that gut feeling.
Let go of thoughts like “No pain, no gain,” or “I have to push myself to get stronger” so they don’t prevent you from listening. Identify what makes you feel both better and worse. Say no when your body reveals to you it isn’t up to doing something. Nurture yourself when your symptoms signal that you need extra care.
Find ways to use your gifts. Perhaps you can’t minister the way you used to, and maybe you’re unable to attend church. This doesn’t mean God can’t use you anymore. Ephesians 2:10 is still true for you: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (NKJV). It may take some creativity to find your place, so seek the Lord’s direction, take a step, and see how He steers you.
Practice gratitude. When you consider all the ways a chronic illness affects your life, it’s tough to think of anything good coming from it. If you focus on gratitude and give yourself some time, perhaps you can find some blessings in disguise.
Start by appreciating anything you have time for that you didn’t in the past. Think of something you’re still able to do. Look at ways you may have grown since getting sick. From there, embrace supportive friends, family members, or medical professionals in your life, and stop yourself and give thanks for something when you’re tempted to complain.Use a journal to record things you’re grateful for, and review that list when you need to.
Trust in the Lord. Remember that you don’t have to endure this changed life alone. You can trust the Lord with every challenge you face and every emotion you feel. You’re never out of His sight, and you’re never beyond His reach. Not only that, He’s also the one person you can trust to keep His promises.
Resource: Chronic Joy (https://chronic-joy.org/)