Friday, July 4, 2014
Lisa was one of three children. She was the middle child, and in many ways she filled the middle child stereotype of being “lost” between her older and younger siblings. She never made waves, and felt like she lived in the shadow of her older sister Lauren. Lisa was the "easy" child for her parents, and never made demands. She also seemed to be the one who got all of the physical problems. From extreme food allergies, stomach problems, and tubes in the ears, Lisa seemed to get it all. Despite all her ailments she never complained, and she was so accustomed to being sick that many times no one noticed until she was very ill. Strep throat turned to scarletina and ear infections became ruptured ear drums. There were times when Lisa felt invisible.
Lisa was diagnosed with a rare illness in her early thirties. Although she was gorgeous, and still appeared healthy, the symptoms of the illness were overwhelming. She went from being a straight “A” student and an adventure loving girl to an adult who could barely function. She had numerous debilitating symptoms that made it very difficult to function. There was no cure for her disorder, and there was no set treatment protocol. The numerous drugs options left much to guesswork and chance to find the right combination. Even when a best treatment was found, it only provided a degree of relief. She could no longer work, and she lost the quality of life she so wanted to enjoy.
Despite the physical effects of her illness, the hardest part of Lisa's life was the judgment, minimizing, and avoidance that she faced from the people she loved. She had friends who walked away without any explanation, and others who told her things like if she would “just exercise” she would feel better. Out of everyone, the one response to her disease that hurt the most was her older sister's. Lisa craved her sister's approval but never felt that she earned it. She did not recognize Lauren's jealousy because of the amount of attention Lisa got growing up. Lauren was always mean and critical of Lisa. She continually pushed Lisa to "snap out if it." She went to the rest of the family and complained about Lisa taking advantage of the system, and her need to "get attention" and "avoid working." This caused so much stress that it not only affected Lisa emotionally, but physically as well.
Lisa's best friends became people online who had the same illness. She felt profound loss not only from a life impacted by illness, but from the people in it. If she could have made herself well, or even well enough to function more, she would have in a heartbeat. Lisa didn't imagine or exaggerate what she was going through. Very few people believed her. So here was Lisa, the invisible sister with an invisible illness who felt like she didn't matter. She didn't want answers from anyone: she had her support group for that. She wasn't looking for special treatment, but she would have given anything to be treated like everyone else. She just needed acceptance, even if people didn't understand.
Lisa's story is a familiar one. There are many people living with "invisible" illnesses, who on the outside don't appear to be sick, who don't act sick, and don't want to be treated as a sick person. They want as normal a life as possible. Finding a normal in this world living under such circumstances is hard at best. So many people unjustly judge others based on their own limited knowledge and experience. We cannot know what someone is going through if we have not walked in their shoes. God tells us in the Bible that to turn away anyone is like turning away Jesus.
None of us should judge a book by it's cover. If Jesus lived here today how would we see Him? I believe that most people would see Him as a crazy, homeless beggar. Just think about a man like this being the savior of mankind! Sick people, no matter what kind of illness they have, still have a lot to give. In some ways, they have more to give. When going through a chronic illness most people develop a very special kind of compassion and wisdom. The Christians I know who have a chronic illness also have a very deep, mature relationship with God. Each one is like a lost lamb, the one that our Shepherd leaves the flock to bring home.
Bear this in mind the next time you encounter someone whose illness you cannot see or don't understand. For those who have an invisible illness, please know how important you are! You are very special to Jesus, and you are very special period. It sometimes takes other special people to recognize this. Don't worry about the people who don't understand. Remember that there are others who do understand and some that are learning acceptance even without a full understanding. You may have less friends, but the meaning of your relationships can be much deeper. And I pray for you all!