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Feb19WedHow to cope when chronic illness takes its toll. February 19, 2014 by Major Kathie Chiu
Living with chronic illness is not easy. Some days the pain and the exhaustion are just too much. There are times when I'm at the end, my energy has run out and I just don't want to go on. However, what goes through my mind is all the people who love me and who rely on me—my two youngest boys at home, my older children, my grandchildren and my husband. So I talk myself out of it and into a better place. I begin to list the positives and think of all the things I can still do. I can walk (slowly), I can work and I can knit.
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“That's it! Atta girl! There's more, keep going!” I encourage myself. I muster up the determination once again not to give in.
Can you identify with this? Does this sound like a familiar routine? If so, you're just like Wilma, who called me after reading my article in the paper about living with a chronic illness and said, “You know exactly how I feel.” Tired, sore, losing mobility … slowly, but surely shrivelling … the world getting smaller, fewer options … all this tends to get to me every so often when a flare-up hits. I can go for months where I feel fine and then all of a sudden it hits and everything is so much more difficult. What can we do about it? How do we cope? Dragging ourselves out of the pit of despair over and over again in itself is discouraging. How do we keep on going?
Early one morning I hauled myself out of bed.
I had an appointment with a physiotherapist at the pool.
I knew I'd fail to get to Aquafit if I decided to go on my own, but knowing someone was waiting for me at the other end of the pool would get me there. So I pushed myself and went. I got in the water with a young man who showed me how to exercise the right way in the pool. What was the reward for my hard work? Ten minutes in the hot tub and a homework assignment—breathe deeply three times every hour. Relax. Fill yourself. Feel better.
I have fibromyalgia and an inflammatory arthritis. Others struggle with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, lyme disease, chronic fatigue or a host of other ailments that never go away but slowly chip away at your energy and resilience. If it weren't for my family, I wouldn't be able to do much at all. My husband helps, I get great foot and ankle massages from my son and I have three sets of strong arms to lean on when movement is difficult.
For many years I asked God to heal me from this affliction. I didn't even know exactly what was wrong, but it was seriously affecting my life. I thought I couldn't go on. In spite of my repeated prayers, moaning and groaning, the pain was still there. I begged God to take it away. I whined about it. When he didn't respond, I argued and said, “I have children, I need to be healed. How can I look after them and my aging mother while I'm sick?” I reasoned with God and it seemed he wasn't listening to me. Then I tried bargaining. “Hey, Lord, don't you realize that without this condition I could accomplish so much more for your glory?”
Nothing worked. As the years went by, resigned to live with the proverbial “thorn in my flesh” and remembering the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” I set about learning how to live with my condition. What happened after I accepted my situation? Well, even though I still have days when the darkness comes, I'm able to somehow hear God's voice telling me he loves me and is with me.
Does God heal people today? I believe he does. However, more often than not, he gives us strength for each new day. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV).
Major Kathie Chiu is the executive director of Victoria's Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre.
(Photo: © Ingimage.com)