Notes From the Sick Bed
What does it mean to be friends with a chronically ill person? What is it like being a chronically ill person trying to have and keep friends? Here’s one important thing: Other people need to know, and you need to face, that you’re not going to be the easiest friend to have.
When you’re chronically ill, your good and bad days fluctuate wildly. In fact, you can go from good to bad several times throughout the day. Sick one hour, not the next. None of this is a big deal, except that life keeps happening and somehow, you have to find the strength to keep going, to do what needs to be done, to care for your mom, your husband, and whatever child, grandchild, neighbor, or other family member needs you at the moment.
Who steps off a roller coaster and regrets getting on? Even if you did lose your lunch, it was still fun and exciting because it was different, and that makes it a valuable experience.
If you’re not intentional, you deny yourself too much, and spiral into worse pain and sickness. Some days, you take one minute at a time and pray like crazy you don’t give in to anxiety, which can make you even more sick.
The Balancing Act
It’s a real balancing act, and there are days when you have to raise your hand — half in praise to a God who sees and knows everything you’re going through and is readily there to give you His strength, and half in a kind but firm signal to others that whatever they need will have to wait until another day.
Even God rested. And while I typically think of God’s strength as something that helps and enables me to go on, sometimes His strength helps my driven and service-oriented self to say No! No to others, of course. But also no to myself, because beyond all the help and service to others lie pursuits and projects I strongly feel need to be conquered and perfected.
To be driven and chronically ill and in pain is both a blessing and a curse. This is why my friends are few.
First, it takes a special person to be able to observe and understand and not become offended when I can’t be the friend they want.
Second, it takes a great amount of trust, in which I am severely lacking, to allow anyone to get close. Most people do not and cannot understand the struggles of the chronically ill. Nor do they care to take the time and energy necessary to try to understand. I don’t fault them for this. I don’t expect others to get it. And I know it takes a lot of work, patience, and emotional maturity to be a true friend to those of my ilk.
Third, it takes a special person to understand my drive coupled with the reality of getting knocked down by a body that simply refuses to cooperate with said drive.
Be Honest and Genuine
To be friends with a chronically ill person is to drop all pretenses, to be genuine and honest from the get go, to be willing to live where the rubber meets the road, and above all, to be flexible. It’s being ready to go fast or slow or not at all at the drop of a hat.
It’s an adventure, for those who can see it that way. It’s an absolute pain in the butt for those who are type A, schedule-driven people who must be in control — and want to live in a world and with people where control is definitely not always possible.
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So there you have it. A day in the life of Anna P. and many others. It’s interesting. Fun. Annoying. Expensive (medical!). High maintenance. Disappointing. And painfully boring.
For us, it’s a roller coaster ride. It could be that for our friends as well. You sit around waiting for what seems forever and finally, you get to do something thrilling, but it’s costly and terrifying and makes you want to lose your lunch. It’s not your everyday run-of-the-mill experience.
But who steps off a roller coaster and regrets getting on? Even if you did lose your lunch, it was still fun and exciting because it was different, and that makes it a valuable experience.
Who Will God Use Now?
Who did God use in the Bible? Well, I’ll tell you who it wasn’t. It wasn’t the normal, ordinary, strong, self-sufficient person. It was the chief of sinners, the quirky, the disabled, the slutty, the child, the chronically ill, the weak, the devalued, the marginalized, etc., etc.
In the struggle with chronic illness, my hope is that He will continue to choose the weak of this world to put the powerful to shame. The foolish to shame the wise. The chronically ill to shame the proudly healthy.
God used Job the most when he was afflicted, not when he was living on top of the world. May it be the same with all of us who live with chronic illness. And may all our friends understand.
Anna Pepperling is a pseudonym for a Rocky Mountain-based author who, in spite of chronic illnesses, is a wife, mother, grandmother of eight, caregiver, avid reader, and sidekick to Spurgeon, a lovable but needy black Lab. In her spare time, she sews, gardens, plays piano, and unashamedly slings her political views across social media.