How to write about Chronic Illness (Watchers, we are not Biographers)

Are you ever tempted to sit down and try and order the pieces of your life?

As you love and care for your sick Loved Ones, do you ever wish you could straighten your hardships out into a coherent narrative, one with a tidy moral and neat conclusion?

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Do you feel that if only you had a polished version of your life, it would be a enough to redeem your suffering, because then it would have a purpose?

In short, do you ever neglect your role as a Watcher in order to become ‘Biographer’?

This is what it looks like:

You are often on the look-out for a purpose or a theme behind your Loved One’s suffering, or in day to day occurrences

You have a yearning desire to put each new experience into words so that others can learn

You are tempted to dismiss parts of life which don’t lend themselves to ‘story’

You are drawn to those areas of life which seems just a little bit more dramatic, heroic or exciting

You feel that your life and experiences are wasted if nobody reads about it and learns

I’m going to switch to ‘we’ now, because this is something I am guilty of at times…

Why is it wrong?

    • Discerning a ‘theme’ in life isn’t enough to ‘redeem it’.

Suffering is not made into a good thing simply because we can explain it

  • We may hurt your Loved Ones by glamorising illness – and thus trivialising it
  • We may neglect parts of life which are not so exciting
  • In reducing ourselves and Our Loved One to ‘characters’ we may neglect to let life impact us deeply – it’s a form of ‘distancing’

Why is it tempting?

  • We want to make good come out of bad, something productive out of what seems like chaos – this is natural
  • It helps us feel in control
  • It’s enjoyable to feel as though we are part of a bigger picture

Some truths:

    • There is a bigger picture and a resonating theme in our lives – not because of our own machinations but because there is a Master Story-teller
    • Sometimes we might be ‘right’ in the themes that we construct, but we never know the full story, because we don’t know the ending
    • It is true that life is like a story – but life is not a story, and I think it’s dangerous to treat it as such

It’s not wrong to write or dream of writing, but writing will never on its own validate suffering or ‘make sense’ of the world.

How do we respond?

  • We hold onto our writing and perceptions loosely, as gifts not gospel
  • We engage in writing and understanding with prayer
  • We strive to love our Loved One as a person, not as a character
  • We guard against seeing ‘dramatic’ events as good in themselves, or beginning to believe that a ‘lesson learnt’ is enough to bring significance into a dark place

My friends, it is natural to want unpack the days of our lives and explore what our King is doing and which themes He is tracing in our lives.

Yet when such a task prevents us from loving and living fully, we need to remember that we are Watchers, not Biographers.

// Are you ever guilty of this? For those of us who love to express ourselves through words, it can often be a subtle temptation! Comment below!


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Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you, friend.