Myth: “You should be all better by now! You found out what was wrong, you got the surgery, it’s been quite some time, and you are STILL not better?! You SHOULD have gotten better by now!” Chronic illness follows the same pattern as normal illness. You get diagnosed, treated, and then go back to a state of recovery, eventually leading you back to a state of “normal health”.
Fact: Chronic illness is called chronic illness for a reason, because it is chronic! Wayne Dyer addresses this myth: We usually expect to follow a pattern that is characteristic of most illness. “The person has an illness and falls from the path of normal health. Then, comes a period of diagnosis and treatment followed by a period of convalescence (the general recovery of health and strength after illness). Finally, the person returns to good health again” (p. 251).
The person is supported, typically, by family, friends, neighbors, and their church community during the illness, treatment, and recovery, assuming that at some point the person will return to normal health and their assistance will no longer be needed (p. 251).
However, in the case of the chronically ill, a different cycle occurs. In the chronically ill, the person loses his normal health. He goes through a period of treatment and sometimes recovers. “But for a number of reasons, depending on the illness, the person does not return to a condition of normal health but continues in a fluctuating pattern of chronic ill health. The person may have periods when he feels better or worse, but at no time does he ever return to complete good health.” (p. 252).
According to Dyer (1990), “Unfortunately, family members, friends, and neighbors do not know how to respond to this unfamiliar pattern, and they usually shift their attention away from the chronically ill person as others with the more normal cycle of sickness occupy their attention” (p 252). At this point, the person with the chronic illness feels a lack of support, understanding, and help. This can lead to increased pain, depression, and anxiety.
It is very difficult for family members, such as spouses, to deal with the person with chronic illness. “Chronic illness can disrupt and pide a family, or it can provide the family with an opportunity to grow in understanding, patience, sacrifice, and love for one another” (Dyer, 1990, p. 256).
For the chronically ill person and his family, the friends, neighbors, and church can either be a source of support and help or elicit feelings of neglect, rejection, and misunderstanding. Most people help at the beginning of the illness, but then become confused when the person doesn’t get better, so they withdraw their attention (p. 256).
Here are some ideas for helping the chronically ill person and family:
• Discuss in some detail with the person how his illness is affecting him and his family and find out what his needs are
• Make short visits to not overtire or over stimulate the patient
• Send a card or make a short phone call to the sick person
• Look for ways to help with young children
• Send a small gift
• Avoid saying things to make the person feel pressured such as “I hope you can come back to church every Sunday now”
• Don’t ask, “What can I do to help?” People don’t like to have to ask for support. Express sensitivity and go ahead and do something (p. 258).
Reference: Dyer, W.G. (1990). Chronic Illness. In R. L. Britsch & T.D. Olson (Ed.), Counseling: A guide to helping others, volume 2, 250-259.
Please take the time to view this video on “Chronic Illness versus Normal Illness” and share with your loved ones: