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Chronic Illness - Chronic Pain Articles Available to Read and Reprint

Living the Single Life When You Have a Chronic Illness

By Lisa Copen

A caregiver… it's a nice thought that when we are hurting our spouse or loved one will draw close and offer the comfort and support that we so desire. Sleepless nights are not spent completely alone, even if only the snores remind us of another's presence. But what happens when one is single and in pain? How does one find comfort when s/he is not living with a family or good friend?

I interviewed Peggy Johnson and asked her to share her thoughts as well as other friends of Rest Ministries.

LC: Tell me how you became single.
PJ: I'm in a category of singles whom I think are often overlooked: I've never been married, but I'm also 'by myself' in that I don't have family near by in whom I can confide for emotional support, or to whom I can turn for assistance. My mother passed away when I was a child, so that nurturing parental relationship is missing, and my siblings have families of their own to care for. Therefore, in many respects, I'm totally dependent on Christ for nurturing, guidance and emotional support.

LC: What do you think is one of the greatest challenges for people who are single that live with chronic illness?
PJ: Suffering in silence. I believe that singles have the same anxieties as others with chronic illnesses: Will I be able to maintain employment? How will my expenses be met if I become completely disabled? But we have such a strong belief that no one understands our unique situation that we often agonize over issues that could be resolved if we would ask for help. Singles live with the emotional dilemma of wanting support from others, but not trusting others enough to reach out and ask for help. The danger of isolation is that we can feed ourselves on negativity - a lack of sense of purpose, harboring our fears and depression, or coping with them in unhealthy ways.

A real private struggle is coping with the idea that we may not get to do more with our lives. My health problems have caused me to ask if I have done anything 'significant' for the Lord, and whether or not I'll have time to do so before my health really deteriorates, or if I should die. Since developing lupus, I've questioned if my career goals have glorified God. As a single person, I cannot measure my accomplishments by the children I've raised, or in maintaining a home the way married people can, because even married people with chronic illnesses can look at their families as sense that they have operated in God's will for their lives.

LC: Oftentimes it can be difficult for singles to find a comforting home within a church with people who understand where they are at in life. The same is true of those with chronic illness. In your opinion, what practical ways can a church most effectively reach out to a single person who also lives with illness?

PJ: Some practical steps to take are:
One way is that church leaders need to be transparent about their own physical limitations. When my pastor shared his experience about caring for his mother who had terminal cancer and severe seizures, this encouraged other people with illnesses to come forward and seek help. It also brought out people who had a real gift of help who could provide assistance.

Secondly, establish small groups, such as HopeKeepers, and other small Bible study groups within the church. These small groups help members become acquainted with one another on an intimate level, and people within the group feel comfortable sharing deep concerns that they may not want to share with the entire church. People are also more willing to accept help from someone within the group than they are from a church leader.

Thirdly, singles need to reach out to each other. My experience is that singles have a taboo against other singles and don't associate with each other very closely. When I recently underwent an exploratory procedure, the only people who contacted me and came to the hospital were my married friends, even though they had family commitments! My single friends, with no children never contacted me. This let me know that singles need to develop relational skills, and practice reaching out to each other.

Also, singles must stop berating their unmarried status and get involved in each other's lives. Even with physical limitations, most of us have more freedom and flexibility to assist others than do married people. Many hope for a spouse to help with life's problems but overlook the resources available to us in other singles. Single Christians with chronic illnesses are in the best position to understand other singles with chronic illnesses.

I don't think the church can help us feel connected until they see that we are capable of connecting with each other. My pastor cannot produce a husband for me! But he can introduce me to other women in my situation with whom I can bold.

Lastly, Titus ii philosophy also works for unmarried males and females. Mentoring, or "Life-on-Life" discipleship is still the most effective tool for reaching out to singles with chronic illness. Pairing older, retired, or other single individuals will create a sense of connectedness in the church. These mentors can be assigned to one or two individuals to contact, befriend and pray for on a regular basis, and help the ministry leaders reach out to the chronically ill.

LC: Great ideas! Share with me some of the experiences you've had within your church?
PJ: I feel fortunate because my experiences have been good because our ministry leaders have been transparent about their own struggles with chronic illnesses, either of family members or with themselves. This encourages many people to come forward about their own needs, and as a result, our church has developed an Extended Sick Care Ministry.

LC: Some singles say that in some ways they are glad that they don't have to worry about anyone but themselves, since they often feel so poorly. Have you experienced this? What mixed emotions has your circumstances given you?
PJ: I agree completely that my health problems are best experienced alone, but I believe that the Lord is trying to move me to reach out to others for help. I'm learning that God cannot develop His body of believers if we all isolate ourselves, and asking for help is a great challenge for me. As much as I want help at times, the idea of 'giving up my independence' is unsettling, but God uses illness to accomplish things in the life of a caregiver as well as in my own life.

LC: How has the combination of being single and living with an illness affected your relationship with Christ? What is one thing that you have learned through this experience?
PJ: One of the best blessings of being a single Christian is having an unobstructed view of, focus on and worship with Christ. At times, my mind is so consumed by the illness that I can do nothing but wonder (worry) and pray for God's help. I've learned that I am totally dependent on God for my existence. Without realizing it, I pray to God for every aspect of my health from helping me to stand up and walk (with a cane) to allowing me to carry my purse or groceries, to regulating my heart beats and giving me clear air to breath while walking down the street wearing a pollen mask. In Mark 5, just like the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus paused and He acknowledges us, v. 32, He reassures us, v. 34, and He Gave us His peace, v. 34.

LC: What advice or encouragement would you give to someone who is single and lives with illness? It can be hard and sometimes depressing. What "authentic" words would you share with them based on your own experience?
PJ: I can honestly say that with each crisis, God has shown up in every aspect to sustain me. One of my favorite advertisements has a caption that reads, "Heaven is in the details," and that's exactly where God has been for me, not in the super miraculous, but in the day-to-day victories.

LC: Thanks, Peggy. I know that people will be very blessed by your testimony.

Peggy Johnson leads a HopeKeepers Support Group at the Landover Memorial Baptist Church in Landover, Maryland. She has been diagnosed with Lupus, but through her medical trials, she has experienced God's grace at every stage. "When people look at me and say with pity, 'its always something, isn't it?' I respond, 'yes, but God is always there at every turn.'"

Challenges: Having total responsibility for everything, 24/7. Joys: Being forced to draw closer to the Lord, because there are no human options for support. Difficulties: Keeping a godly attitude when my sense of humor has decided to vacation in places unknown, and there's no one else around to coax it to com home. ~Patti

The challenges that I face with my illnesses do not overcome me with depression; when I think of what I have waiting for me in heaven. A Glorified body, no more pain, no more tears and above all the One who saved my soul, Jesus, Kings of Kings, Lord of Lords. ~Mary Ann

The joys of being single are include doing nothing and staying in bed on a bad day without having to worry about anyone else. But the downside is that one has no one to help, share money concerns, or talk to at 3 a.m. when the pain is unbearable. Few call or drop by because they lead busy lives, but Rest Ministries' devotionals are like God's words directed to me and I get up and start another day and try to pass God's love on to someone else that day. ~Tammie

I was 24 and single when my life changed as a result of an accident. Relationships over the next few years were something I didn't seem to have the energy to cope with because of my struggles with coming to terms with chronic pain; Consequently, I am still single at nearly 40. Sometimes I think it is lucky that I am single because I don't have to take out the frustration and pain I feel on someone that close to me, but there are other times when I wish there was someone else to share the hard decisions and the fear of the black days-or even the joys of little accomplishments. God has helped me to learn to live with the limitations I have, but there are days when, apart from God, I feel very alone. ~Fiona

Living alone with chronic illness has been the most difficult thing I've ever faced. The first year wasn't so bad, but as time went on I lost contact with friends and relatives. They didn't want to be around a person who is always ill. At times it's hard to care for basic needs like eating and housekeeping if one is bedridden or fatigued. It's difficult to get anyone to even run errands when I need something done, like getting medicine and food, when I am unable to do it myself. I deal with a lot of anxiety trying to go at it alone during the bad weeks, which can trigger panic attacks. My agrophobia compounds the problem; it means everything to me to have a rider when going on doctor trips or shopping. ~Steve

I've found that being single and chronically ill is challenging at times. There's no one here to help me when things are not going well; I must suffer alone. But then again, I don't have to be concerned about the impact on someone else when I am not having a good day. I can cry buckets of tears, throw a fit and even scream. No one is there to have to see it. ~Diane

To be in constant pain and fatigued, to be limited in what I can accomplish, causes self pity. When I choose-and it is a choice-to pray, the Lord shows me how to cope. I say I am alone and no one understands, but he reminds me that is not so; that he is always with me. There are numerous times I would not be able to go on if it were not for Jesus." ~Deanna

Get a free download of 200 ways to reach out to someone who is hurting from Beyond Caseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend when you sign up for hopenotes, a monthly ezine. Author of this article, Lisa Copen is also the founder of Rest Ministries and National Invisible Illness Awareness Week.





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