Psalm 88 comes up often at Compline in which the psalmist faces his ill health and gives God a bit of telling off. One line stands out as, because of how sick he is he says, “You have taken my friends away from me, and made me repulsive in their sight. I am confined and cannot escape.” (Ps 88:8).
Go to any place on the internet where people speak of their experiences of serious chronic illness – especially not so well understood ones like fibromyalgia, ME (cfs) or dysautonomic disease like PoTs, IST and all the rest that goes with them, and you’ll see the same stories over and over. So many people tell of how friends and family not only abandoned them, but actually humiliated them over how sick they were.
The most common idiot thing to say is “But you don’t look sick.” WHAT does sick have to look like? I mean, most of us exhibit all sorts of weird “sick” signs. Perhaps the fact that I twitch and jerk randomly, have colour changing body parts; have lost the skill to both move and breathe at the same time, and of course there’s the in-yer-eejit-face wheelchair, has prevented most daft comments (Doctors are another species so I don’t count the bizarre and inhuman things they say).
Story after story in which the person struggling with the disease that has stripped so much of their life away, has to face being rejected, taunted and ridiculed by their own family and friends. What on earth is going on?
Many people lay the blame at the feet of doctors who have been rude and dismissive; which should be a matter of deep shame to medics, but isn’t. Family members still stuck in the idea that “doctor knows best” then feel permission has been given to behave in the same way and so the nastiness spreads. Then there’s the ability to wiggle off the hook of having to love and care for another person. I am sure not wanting to feel responsible makes a lot of people cruel.
Having a chronic disease is a bloomin’difficult business. It’s bad enough when support isn’t there when it’s needed, but to be actively abused for being ill has got to be the worst possible experience. THIS BLOG POST sums up what it’s been like for way too many people. Research from a couple of years ago shows that one in ten suicides are because of chronic illness – but read any post by someone feeling suicidal with chronic illness and almost always it’s nothing to do with how sick they are, but how others are treating them.
I am so grateful that I haven’t been through the level of rejection and stupid behaviour that so many others out there speak of. I’ve lost a couple of fair weather friends and family, but most people have been fine with me and very supportive.
I am quite sure plenty of people in my life have no idea, or only a vague notion, what chronic illness does to me, but I don’t mind that. Why should they have to understand it? But no one has been cruel or unkind to me, thank God.
Like nearly all FMS/ME/Dysautonomia patients I’ve faced a barrage of rude, arrogant and downright nasty medics. That’s more than enough to cope with thank you very much. I don’t need more. I don’t get why people feel the need to dismiss the suffering of others. What’s that about exactly?
Ten years into this hideous set of illnesses I’d be very tempted to use rude words in response to someone who tried to pour salt on my wounds.
My oldest children have been brilliant right from the beginning of this. They’ve had to contend with a lot from me and deal with their younger sister being extremely ill for the first three years of her life too.
I am very grateful that I have good Christian people around me who have a good Christian attitude to life.
So to all you friends and family who have never said “But you don’t look sick” or “You should try and get out more,” or “Have you heard of so-n-so the brave cripple..” or “have you tried this miracle cure?” or whatever other useless, unhelpful thing, I just want to say THANK YOU.