The effects aren’t what you think. Well, some of them probably are. Like most people, I have fears about my health. Some days I fear the virus and other days I believe the stuff already living inside of me is worse than the virus ever could be to me. Ironically, I believe I have an excellent immune system. Too excellent. What I mean by that is, my body’s defense is so stellar that it attacks itself. I don’t believe I “catch” things outside of my body very easily, only that the pathogens already living inside of me become triggered day in and day out depending on stress, diet, sleep, hormones, and whether or not a butterfly sneezes in Europe. Mostly throughout the pandemic, I’ve been concerned about my husband and making everyone around me as comfortable as possible. But yes, I do worry about myself at times too.
I also don’t feel welcome in society because people are afraid of sickness and I’m always sick. There’s never a day of exception. Due to a buildup of toxins, I’ve awakened with a cough every day of my life for years. It’s impossible for me to distinguish potential covid from my everyday symptoms. So, I further isolate myself for the sake of others, and it’s growing wearisome. I consider myself fortunate to have Jason and can’t stand to think about those who have no one. The isolation already felt by a person with chronic illness worsens in a pandemic, especially when the minimal activities he/she is able to join are taken away.
There have been good things. For example, technology finally allows those with chronic illness to join into certain activities. At the same time, we can’t help but wonder where that blessing was all along. I guess it takes a suffering majority for people to care enough to change things. It was a combination of good, eye-opening, and hurtful for everyone to enter my world for awhile. I received much communication in the beginning of the pandemic because most people started to understand the loneliness I’ve dealt with for years. But eventually, and rather quickly I might add, those same people went back to their lives. Sadly, I don’t have that option. And it hurts. It hurts to hear people complain about isolation I’ve lived for so long. It hurts to watch communities rally around the sick and shut in. Where were those communities before? It hurts to have people build virtual relationships with me in their temporary loneliness and then have them go back to forgetting about me. It hurts to feel shamed for disagreeing with conventional medical approaches that have so deeply affected my life and then be labeled as selfish, not caring about the “common good.” It hurts SO deeply to read about “chronic covid,” which causes the exact symptoms of Lyme disease, and have it simply believed, when belief in chronic Lyme has been a knock-down, drag-out fight for my life, that I’ve most often lost. I cannot help but ask questions I wish wouldn’t enter my heart. Why has my life meant so much less than the life of someone who’s had covid? Or cancer? Or heart issues? I read an article once written by someone with Lyme who then got cancer. The same community that had ignored her for years suddenly showed up in droves when she got cancer and she wondered why. Why do many people refuse to believe us or care about us? What is it in us that makes our lives so much less significant than everyone else’s? I hate the questions that sometimes plague me. It all comes down to the silly old question: What am I, chopped liver?
I write this with fear and trembling and tears rolling down, knowing how utterly selfish it all sounds. I am guilty for feeling this way. I am sorry. Truly, I am. I wish it weren’t so. And I do want to thank the few who have stayed close. I’ll never be able to express what you mean to me. I write this for me but also for those in similar shoes, who are afraid to say how this pandemic has exacerbated the deepest hurts of their hearts… how it appears to have proven the lack of care they already felt.
Most days, I am okay. I have much more joy now than ever before. But based on the feelings triggered when I read certain articles or hear people talk, I know there is much more work to be done in my heart. I absolutely plan to let God do it.
I cannot put my hurt and anger into adequate words. But here is what I do know. Choosing to live wounded hurts me far more than it hurts those who wounded me. I can be mad at the world all I want. I guarantee the world isn’t going to care that I’m mad. Continuing to look for validation from those who invalidated me is like continually returning to an abuser. It’s setting me up to dive deeper into hurt and harden into bitterness. You’ve probably heard the saying, “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” It’s time to forgive, even if nothing changes other than my own heart.
When Paul said he boasts in his weakness in 2 Corinthians 12, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean the way I sometimes boast about it… like the list of grievances I just shared. Oops. Sometimes I corrupt that boast into self-pity and resentment. But the real point Paul is trying to make is what he says in a previous chapter, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17). My weakness is not meant to be an opportunity for other people to be strong for me. It’s meant for God to be strong in me (2 Cor 12:9-10). Even when I feel utterly alone, not believed, invalidated, and dismissed, as most people with chronic illness feel, I am never alone. We are never alone. We are believed, validated, and accepted by the only One whose opinion matters. When we’re able to think in these terms, it sets us free. Weight of injustice lifts. We can breathe again.
So, may the eyes of those who have dismissed or forgotten the chronically-ill be opened more each day. But, more importantly, may those of us with chronic illness choose the light burden (Matthew 11:30). May we choose breath. May we choose forgiveness. And the next time hurt feelings are triggered, I pray we choose these gifts again. I hope we boast about our weaknesses in the way God intended. I desperately want God’s power to be made perfect in me and it cannot be so if I’m drowning in bitterness. I want to be strong in the Lord, not in my own defense. It is God who “exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth” (Jeremiah 9:24), not me. Even if not a soul on this earth is for me, God is for me. He is enough.
“My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice” (Psalm 34:2). Let the afflicted rejoice. Let us boast about what the Lord Himself is doing in us, rather than in what others are not doing for us. When I manage to break free from living wounded, I’m actually happy. We attract what we feel so when I allow myself to sink, I find more reasons to be bitter. Resentment only worsens our situation because no one wants to be around someone drowning in bitterness. We may unintentionally push people away, thereby seeming to validate our resentment… causing a vicious cycle. Break the cycle. Living for the only One who truly cares without worrying what other people think actually draws people to us. We don’t have to try and draw them to ourselves. What a gift.
Of course, we’re allowed to and should feel our hurts, pouring them out to God. But trusting those hurts to God rather than trying to fix them ourselves, and believing that God will take it from here brings freedom, allows joy, and continues to welcome the love of imperfect people rather than pushing them away. Choosing to trust in the heart of God is choosing life. Choosing to trust in people is choosing a slow, lonely death. I hope we choose life. In our weakness, we don’t have to be strong… because He is.