I don't often speak of chronic illness, or its affect on my health. There are so many people who live in a world riddled with incapacity as a result of the numerous forms of autoimmune diseases currently diagnosable. I am sure there are a host of others waiting for research to discover their specific malady. I am blessed by the relatively mild symptoms with which I must live. Nevertheless, there are times when the pain, fatigue, depression and general administration of managing my health becomes suffocating. I think there are times when those of us who suffer with lesser degrees of symptoms feel ignored, or passed over in the world of chronic illness. Because we are not bed-ridden, crippled or writhing in pain we tend to be forgotten. But our story is valid. And sometimes it needs to be retold.
I have Hashimoto's Disease.
It is a rather straightforward autoimmune disease caused by an immunological response to your thyroid gland. Your body declares war on your own endocrine system, and eventually wins by causing irreparable damage to your thyroid. The mechanics are fairly simple. The antibodies created to attack your thyroid will always be present. Your thyroid, always under attack from these antibodies, begins to shutdown and eventually fails. The functions attributed to your thyroid are lost, unless supplemented by external medication. A diagnosis is usually easy, with a blood draw showing your current levels of thyroid activity, levels of thyroid stimulating activity (your brain trying to give your thyroid the proverbial kick-in-the-pants), and your antinuclear antibody (ANA) count, which measures the amount of antibodies your system is producing against itself. Clinically, medical professional needs only these markers to determine whether a diagnosis for Hashimoto's is appropriate. They can also use only these tests to determine if treatment is effective. On paper it is strangely neat, tidy, and easily managed.
In my life... well, it's a little different.
Besides the objective markers that can be quantitatively tested, the list of symptoms that are common to Hashimoto's include chronic fatigue, loss of appetite with weight gain, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, muscle aches, joint pain, befuddlement, menorrhagia and depression. I've experienced or live with them all. For instance, my day rarely starts with a wonderful stretch, but often begins because pain has awoken me. I must assess each day's activities, and recognize, at some level, that what I choose to do today could affect my ability to do anything tomorrow. At its best I find Hashimoto's mildly irritating. However, after losing a pregnancy because of complications with my thyroid I no longer ignore the reality that my disease seriously affects my life.
Why am I telling all this to you? Because one of the responsibilities I believe God has given me is to help educate people on how to live compassionate lives towards those who appear strong, but are just as frail as the rest of humanity. Assuming that only those people who speak about their illness every day (all day) are the only ones suffering is hogwash. Invalidating, or minimizing another person's pain is also hogwash. Trust me, it would be sooo much easier if I just had a giant purple rash stretching across my forehead than to try and argue with one more doctor about why the numbers on the chart may be in the 'normal' range but my symptoms prove I am not yet adequately managed.
If you have someone in your life who struggles with chronic illness, ask them about it. Most of us really appreciate the chance to share with others about the realities we face on a daily basis. It helps us not feel alienated. Find out if there are ways you can support your loved one through prayer, education or lending a helping hand. One of the best things you can do is remind your loved one that they are not a failure when their disease keeps them from fulfilling their expectations (or perceived expectations) of 'normal' living.
I don't know why our broken world must include things like chronic illness. But I do know that it is a wonderful way in which we participate in the grace of Christ.
I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:13
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. - 2 Corinthians 12:9