Living with Chronic Illness
Okay. JoJo’s gone off the deep end! Brain fog has taken over and she’s completely out of her mind! I hear ya out there. You’ve stuck with me through some of my other unusual posts, but this one’s gone too far. Stick a fork in ‘er, she’s done! As someone who is in a fair amount of physical pain as I’m typing this, I understand your horror at the thought of seeing blessings in pain and chronic illness. But give me a few minutes of your time and I think you’ll see my sanity returning and you’ll be blessed.
This idea started as a debate topic. You see, (those of you who may not have known me long) in a former life I was an author and speaker on communication skills at www.ArtofEloquence.com. I used to teach speech, debate and communication classes both online and off. Nowadays, I’m too tired, overwhelmed and in pain to run my business much less teach so I only do that on rare occasions. This month was one such occasion. I am teaching a homeschool co op class on debate. One of the topics I picked was Pain is Good. I figured it was something with which most teens would be unfamiliar and would be a good life lesson as well as a great debate topic. Pain keeps us from more harm. Even babies would remove their hand from the fire, right?
As I began putting my week’s lesson plan together, it occurred to me that, while I am not a fan of pain (emotional or physical) itself, enduring it can bring some blessings that I’d never have had the opportunity to experience had I been healthy. There are some lessons you only learn from pain. There are some lessons life cannot teach without it. There are some blessings you will never notice unless you’ve been through a day where you felt your head would explode or years when you thought if you woke up without pain one day, you would HAVE to be in heaven.
Pain itself is bad, but enduring pain can be a good thing and bring blessings you’d never have known-but you have look for them. They can’t always been seen by the naked eye or heard above the white noise of the TV. But as soon as I reveal to you how pain can bring blessings, you’ll never look at it the same way again. There are several ways in which pain can bring blessings into your life and the lives of those you touch.
1. Pain makes you compassionate.
The people who have suffered the most, tend to be the most compassionate. The more struggles a person goes through, the more they have compassion for others who are going through difficult times. I’ve known some amazingly compassionate people who consistently take time to support, uplift and help others. I almost always find that they have suffered a great deal in their own lives and have a calling to be of help to others. There is a saying, “hurt people hurt people,” but I have found that struggling people help struggling people because they seem to have a heart for others and feel their pain as if it were their own–because it was (or is).
2. Pain makes you supportive.
Those who have struggled with something, especially for a long time, seem to have a need to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. Their compassion manifests itself when they lift up and support others going through the same thing. They don’t want to see the pain–even if it’s in another’s life and not their own.
3. Pain gives you understanding.
Nobody can understand what another is going through like someone who has already been through it. Understanding is a huge blessing to those who struggle with chronic illness, especially the kind we call invisible illness where test results and doctors don’t corroborate or justify their experience. Most people with invisible illness are desperate to feel understood. When they encounter someone who truly understands them, they feel vindicated and not so alone. Someone acknowledges them. Someone truly hears them and understands and that is priceless to one who has been fighting the good fight alone for years.
4. Pain makes you a good servant.
Those who have struggled with something for a long time are not only compassionate, supportive and understanding, but they often go the extra mile to help relieve another’s suffering. They are the ones who take a meal to a neighbor even though they, themselves, are having a rough day. They bestow blessings upon others who are suffering and struggling with life’s difficulties.
5. Pain enables you to be sympathetic.
Not only do they feel compassion for those who are suffering, but they are sympathetic. They not only say the right things, but they do so in the spirit of sympathy that means so much to others even if they haven’t experienced exactly the same struggle.
6. Similar pain enables you to be empathetic.
That sympathy goes above and beyond when they HAVE experienced exactly the same pain or problem. Empathy is an even more powerful support than is sympathy. To have someone who has been through the exact struggle you have been through, share with you, help you and say they understand is even more of a blessing.
So far you say, all these blessings are bestowed upon others. But I tell you it is a blessing to be a blessing to others. To give blessings blesses you in return. But if you need a blessing that is truly your own, look at these:
7. Pain makes you appreciative.
Those who have suffered a great deal appreciate the little things. You get great joy from a simple flower, a pain free moment, a few extra dollars, a bit of free time, a rest, a beautiful day showing God’s beauty in the midst of your suffering. Appreciation gives you hope and hope brings even more blessings. Being appreciative of the little things means you are grateful for even small advances in treatment, tiny steps forward in financial matters, and most importantly grateful to God and other people for their help in getting through the tough times. You know the depths of sorrow and it stands in stark contrast to some of the wonders of the world and the amazing people you meet. Managing to be grateful helps you find joy even in the midst of pain.
8. Pain makes you stronger.
Though it doesn’t feel like it at the time, in retrospect, you do feel a sense of strength having gone through something so difficult. Whether it’s physical or emotional pain and as difficult as it is to admit, we do feel as if we’ve overcome after we are over the worst of a particular struggle de jur. After the pain of childbirth, I don’t much worry about the pain I feel when I bang my knee. As compared with the pain of worrying about my dd’s heart condition when she was young and seeing her jaw bone through her chin when she hit the ice while skating, I wasn’t as easily frazzled when she tore a ligament in Karate. After having been through the pain of seeing her empty room when she left for college or when she spent a semester half way around the world in Russia, the sadness when she left to go to grad school in Texas didn’t seem as devastating to me.
My sister’s kids where always having high fevers and were forever getting sick. I remember talking to her about my fear when my dd’s fevers would spike and she was able to reassure me based upon her experience.
People ask me about the stress of having to replace all of my electronic devices after a lightening strike took out 18 of them back in June. I remember thinking, yeah. It’s a bit annoying having to buy and install or schedule repairs on all these items. This was a mild annoyance, but we had the money to replace them all. Having to figure out where to find the money to replace a $15 item was much more stressful!
Those of us suffering from chronic illness are pain warriors! We’ve been through it all and back again and, though we’d never knowingly ask for it, we are stronger for having had to deal with it in our lives. It’s been much easier to handle little setbacks the last several years than it was in the beginning of my journey with chronic illness. I used to immediately jump on the “freaked out” wagon. Now it takes a lot more for me to get freaked out. To paraphrase a popular meme on Facebook, my track record for getting through difficult times is unblemished. I’ve done it each and every time and God has been there every step of the way with me. It’s not too much of a leap to assume He’ll be there again and I’ll come through.
Has sanity returned to JoJo? While I’d never choose pain and I do whatever I can to alleviate it, I do count these among my blessings. If you have to have pain, at least there is something good that comes of it. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:3-5
My debate class learned a lot that week. I’m proud of them for reaching into their hearts to see the blessings past the pain they saw in the world, in their families or inside themselves. How can YOU see the blessings in your own pain? Please share your comments/feedback here as a blog comment. And please share this blog post with others who you think will benefit by seeing the blessings in their pain.