December 10, 2017

Things I’ve Learned from Chronic Illness (1)

Today kicks off the start of Invisible Illness Week. It’s not something you want to celebrate… but for some of us, it’s an opportunity to share how we deal with chronic “invisible” illness, and help raise awareness for the diseases we fight every single day.

It’s called invisible, because to the average bystander, everything looks fairly normal. I’m not in a wheelchair. I’m not hooked up to oxygen or an IV bag. I don’t have any major skin problems or injured limbs.

But I do have a chronic illness called Wegener’s Granulomatosis. {Read more about my illness here.} And this week I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned along my journey with Wegener’s. Things that are both physical and spiritual in nature – because really, I’m fighting an invisible battle on both fronts.

I don’t wish chronic illness on anyone, but I hope that in some way, these things will be relevant to your own life. Perhaps they’ll help you through the next infection or virus. Perhaps they’ll encourage you to fight harder spiritually. Perhaps they’ll simply help you better understand people who face chronic illness.

{Also, check out this post from my friend Catherine about learning though physical affliction.}


Lesson #1: recognize the body/spirit connection

Illness is hard, whether it’s a chronic thing or just a cold. Your body feels lousy, and it seems like you can’t control your emotions. And therein lies the rub:

–> If your body is afflicted, then your spirit will be affected.
–> If your spirit is afflicted, then your body will be affected.

For example, whether you’re fighting a virus, or you miss a few hours of sleep, or you just plain haven’t had any down time recently – you feel miserable emotionally as well as physically. When your body is fighting anything at all, it draws on all available resources, and that means physical energy as well as mental energy.

That means it’s harder to be angry and sin not. Or to be anxious for nothing. Or to rejoice in the Lord always. Or to discipline the body.

I’m not saying that sickness gives you a free pass to disobey Scripture. I’m saying, recognize the connection and take specific steps to either heal your body or strengthen your spirit. As one of my college professors used to say, recognize that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep!

Likewise, if your spirit is overburdened, your body will suffer. If you remain worried or anxious, angry at a person or situation, despairing over things beyond your control – the longer these mindsets continue, the more likely the body will suffer as well.

Continued mental/spiritual stress has been proven to cause problems like sleepless nights, heart palpitations or tachycardia, pain, weakened immune systems, fatigue, nausea or heartburn, headaches…

I’ve had to learn how to recognize what I struggle with spiritually (or emotionally) when my body is fighting harder. I fight worry and anxiety, over little “nuisance” problems that could be indicative of flare-ups or more serious problems. I fight being preoccupied with my health, spending all my time and mental energy seeking to feel better. I even fight laziness, and knowing the difference between saying no when I need to, and merely using my health problems as an excuse not to do something.

The good news is, once you recognize the connection, you can do something about it. When I learn what I struggle with spiritually, I can memorize Scripture passages that help me in those areas. Then I can meditate specifically on those passages during my times of physical weakness. That keeps my mind at rest, and my heart at peace, and allows my body to fight just a little bit harder – because it’s only fighting on one front, not two.

I can also set safeguards for myself, and help others understand a little better. Since I know that I get easily annoyed when my fatigue is worse, I can pray specifically about my attitude those days. I can be on the lookout for potential problem situations, and take time-outs as I need them. I can let my husband know with a gentle word (before I say or do something unloving) so that he can better understand and be a little more patient with me – and so that he knows “it’s not him, it’s me!”

The point is, your body and spirit are totally connected. Things don’t affect just one of them at a time. Weakness in one area will cause weakness in the other. But strength in one area usually fosters strength in the other.

So take care of your body. Eat healthfully. Exercise regularly. And you’ll notice an improvement in your spirit.

And more importantly, take care of your spirit. Stay faithful in the Word, and in communion with God. And I guarantee, your body will have fewer afflictions.


 

QUESTIONS for YOU: Have you ever noticed the connection between physical affliction & spiritual struggle? How have you worked to overcome those challenges? How could you set safeguards, or plan ahead of time, for specific weaknesses or struggles?

Also in this series: opportunities, not limitationsgood health is not everything; cherish the time you have

 

Need help caring for your spirit? Consider reading the Bible with me!
Here’s the reading schedule for this week: 

Monday: Judges 11-12, John 4
Tuesday: Judges 13-15, John 5
Wednesday: Judges 16-18
Thursday: Judges 19-21
Friday: Lamentations 1-2, John 6
Saturday: Lamentations 3-5
Sunday: Amos 1-3, John 7

 

 

Comments

  1. Elizabeth, Thank you so much for sharing this. I don’t struggle with a chronic illness, but I have some good friends that do. I know that this series will help me understand them better.

    As to the relationship between spiritual and physical health I say a big hearty yes! I think, too often we neglect the connection. Children have also helped me understand this. Often when they start misbehaving more than usual they are overly tired or hungry. Sometimes, in the next day or two they will come down with a sickness and I think, “Ah, that is why they were acting that way.” (of course there plenty of times that it is just because they are human, too. 🙂 )

  2. Loved this, Elizabeth. So wise. There is a very real body/spirit connection. I think it was Jim Berg who said, “You are only as spiritual as you are rested.” Moms see this with children quite often…when it is naptime, all behavior is spiraling downhill fast. And I def. saw a connection between my own spiritual health while I had mono. 🙂 Thx for sharing.

    • Sarah, he’s also the one who said “sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep.” It’s so true, sometimes – and something I wish more people could understand.

  3. You know, this is, of course, something I think about often. As one who lives with an invisible disease, I find myself with a lot to think about, and also trying to work out how to address the nosy people who ask me why I don’t have kids . . . yet. I don’t yet know how to respond graciously when I tell them there is no “yet” . . . we don’t have kids now, and we never will. It is always awkward. And then they think that I must surely have a job. But no, I can’t work. Thanks for your post. I will pray and think about my responses to people. I often forget that I have this disease, but it affects my life more than I know (having lived with it for 13 years, it has become completely normal to me, and I forget how abnormal it appears to others.) My first thought in response to your post was that I’m not affected spiritually at all, but I guess this comment contradicts that. I do nap most days, just as a preventative measure. Sleep sometimes really is spiritual. Little is said about individual and unique concerns in Christian books, especially when it comes to children.

    • I know what you mean about life with illness feeling completely normal… in some ways, that’s a good thing for us. It helps us cope. But yeah, other people don’t always understand. But if they truly care about you, they’ll try to understand as best as they can.

      Thanks for the comment – and I noticed you shared about your “invisible illness” today too. Be sure to check out the website – http://invisibleillnessweek.com – and share your post there if you’d like!

  4. ‘sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep!’

    Apparently I’m super spiritual (not!) but my body sure knows how to sleep. When I was first diagnosed with CFS one of the questions I was asked was ‘are you grumpy/cranky a lot’ – unfortunately the answer was yes. But His grace is sufficient. Thanks for this post :o)

    • Lizzy, your first sentence there made me laugh! 🙂 But I know how easy it is to be cranky when your body is so fatigued. It is truly a struggle to keep a good attitude. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Great post. One of my professors taught us to HALT: Hungry Angry Lonely Tired. Whenever, we are one of those things, we need to deal with that first and then address whatever else is going on. Absolutely true: sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep or in my case, eat. If I’m hungry…I am totally mean and cranky. Thanks for linking up with WIP!

  6. Hi again Elizabeth! I just found your blog the other day and read one of the posts and am going back to the beginning to read the rest as they are so encouraging and helpful. I have CFS too and can relate to the lady above who talked about being grumpy. I never truly realized the physical/emotional/spiritual connection you mentioned above but I will tell you when I am having an especially exhausted day, I skip my Bible study because it feels like too much. Now I am thinking I should find some encouraging verses, like you mentioned, write them on notecards and take them out on those hard days. These posts and comments are so helpful because often it is journey that feels a bit isolated but we really are not.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I’ve learned along my journey with Wegener’s Granulomatosis (WG). You can read them here: Recognize the body/spirit connection; See opportunities, not limitations; Realize that good health is not everything; Cherish the time […]

  2. […] Recognize the body/spirit connection 2- See opportunities, not limitations 3- Realize that good health is not […]

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