Supporting the chronically ill, living life and finding hope
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.
Trust. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, but it’s always costly because there’s never 100% certainty it will end well.
So how do you make trusting your chronically ill friend a habit when there are times you really don’t want to, but you’ve asked yourself the questionsand you think you should? Before we explore the answer, let’s brainstorm some scenarios, because trust is never abstract.
It’s hard to make trust a habit when…
Your chronically ill friend..
… is going through a rough patch and you know you should ask how they’ve tried to fix it, and what resources they’ve drawn upon – but really, you think that’s a waste of time since you know exactly what needs to be done.
… wants to go with you to the party and say they’ll be fine – and you are almost positive they won’t be fine and you’ll end up having to leave early to take them home.
… tells you they’re feeling nauseous after eating carrots – and you think it’s all ‘in their head’ and want to roll your eyes every time they bring it up.
As different as these situations are, each prompts the question: will you choose to trust your friend, or will you trust in your own capabilities? You want to make trust a habit… but it’s just so hard. What do you?
How to make trust a habit
1. Ask yourself why you don’t want to
Making trust a habit is hard for all of us, and generally, it’s not something we instinctively choose. But what is it about this particular relationship or situation that you are finding so difficult? Sometimes our pragmatic reason (I’ll save my friend a lot of trouble if I just step in and fix it) is hiding a more subjective motivation (I like feeling in control).
If you’re having trouble trusting, try and voice the specific reason, and check for underlying motivations!
2. Alter your first reaction
It’s easy to get in the habit of cynicism, and assume everyone is lying, exaggerating or incapable of making a balanced decision. This sounds rather dangerous, but it can manifest in subtle ways: an incredulous ‘really?’ when someone tells you something you think unlikely; a quick scramble to find a different explanation when the one we’re given contradicts our assumptions; a disinclination to take someone’s story at face value.
I’m not talking about wisdom vs. gullibility. I’m talking about when our first reactionis to disbelieve someone rather than listen to the end, or ask questions, or to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes trust is as simple as swapping the ‘Really?’ for a ‘Really? Tell me more.’
3. Make a settled decision
This ties in with the point above. Most of us are not particularly good at trusting ‘off the cuff’. Perhaps, in one sense, that’s wise. But I think it’s important that we sit down and choose to make a settled decision to give as many people the gift of trust as possible.
Why? For me, it’s a way of honouring others as individuals, an exercise of trust in God, and because I want to live in a trusting world.
4. Give up regrets
For all of us there have been times when we trusted and it fell through. Perhaps the person chose to be untrustworthy, perhaps they couldn’t help it, perhaps circumstances outside of our control meant that our gift of trust spawned painful consequences. In light of that, it can be difficult to choose to make trust a habit.
I’m not saying it’s wise to keep trusting someone who has proved untrustworthy in high-stakes situations. I am saying that we can’t base our present decisions on past regrets. This situation is different because it’s here, now, not back then. When we give up trusting everyone and everything because we’ve been duped or disappointed, we hurt ourselves and those around us.
5. Say no to self-protection as a number one priority
This demands explanation. It’s wise to look after ourselves. But that’s different to making self-protection a priority at all costs. When we make self-protection our number one priority, we refuse to trust in any situation which could lead to hurt or pain or discomfort. We might still be willing to trust, but only when we won’t bear the consequences, or, at the very least, won’t bear them alone.
If we protect ourselves like this, we might live a less-painful life. But at what cost? The cost of deep relationships with others and with God, the cost of freedom and the cost of never experiencing the joy which comes from ‘bearing one another’s burdens’ and looking beyond ourselves.
A final word
Trust is hard and failure is common, but the good thing is that opportunities to trust come multiple times a day! It’s never too late to make trust a habit, and in the meantime, we have a good God who forgives us when we choose not to trust out of selfish motivations. He is always trustworthy and always ready to hear us when we need to talk things over.
// What can you do this week to make trust a habit?
Missed my Christmas Gift? To keep in the loop about my upcoming memoir, follow the link below!
‘I trust you.’ ‘I believe you.’ ‘Okay.’ Expressions of trust can seem simple, and can be a great gift to those who receive them. When we trust another person, we show respect, bolster confidence, and validate experience.
We are effectively saying, ‘I hear you,I believe you know what you’re talking about, and I am going to assume that you are capable and autonomous until proven otherwise.’ We are demonstrating a ‘firm belief in someone’s reliability, ability and truthfulness’ (thank you, Oxford Dictionary).
So far that sounds quite straightforward.
Yet in the context of chronic illness, trust can often be accepting your chronically ill Loved One’s assessment of their capabilities, believing their description of the situation, and assuming they have valid ideas, dreams and motivations.
‘Relationships are built on trust’ – that’s a phrase you hear often. But have you ever considered that trust might be more than a necessity? That it might actually be one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, particularly someone who is living with a chronic illness?
The Oxford dictionary defines trust as the ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.’
Think about that for a moment. With this definition in mind, how would you feel if someone said, ‘I trust you’? I’d feel pretty good. I’d feel recognized, validated and affirmed. I’d feel more confident in myself. I’d feel challenged to ‘keep up the good work’. All that from three words.
I, like many of you, had made multiple plans… and they didn’t all come to fruition! I took a sabbatical from this blog, and also tried to take a sabbatical generally, but due to the wonders and the horrors which made up 2020, that didn’t quite happen.
Due to Covid, I was more active on Called to Watch than the word ‘sabbatical’ might suggest! I was also published on several other online spaces, including Eternity News, Lupus Chick, Penetrating the Darkness and Chronic Joy (where you can now LISTEN to my posts!). If you haven’t seen those articles, check them out!
It might be nice to dream of brushing 2020 under the carpet as we enter 2021 with hopeful hearts, determined to have a Better Year. I’m all for hope, but I suspect many of us will begin this year still processing what has happened and dealing with the changes in everyday and global life. That’s more than okay, and therefore this year on Called to Watch I want to focus on TRUST.
What. A. Year. It’s my prayer that you are all able to take some time over the holidays to reflect, grieve and rejoice over 2020. I am planning on doing so soon. But for now, let’s all take a deep breath, and celebrate!
I promised some exciting news before I left on my Sabbatical-Which-Didn’t-Happen. Now it’s time to deliver… and what better time than Christmas? My heart longs for my exciting news to be a gift to you all, dear readers and fellow Watchers. It has certainly been a gift to me. A gift of God’s kindness, a demonstration of his faithfulness.
For a while this year I wasn’t sure I’d even have this gift to offer you, so uncertain was life with COVID and other circumstances. But because of God’s goodness and generosity, I can – and so I pray you will join me in celebration.
Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour: My Christmas gift
What is this mysterious gift, I hear you ask?
It’s this: Next year in August, my memoir, Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour will be published by Elephant House Press!
It is the story of my sister and I, the tumour which changed our lives, and the God who saved them. In 2015 my younger sister was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and my life was irretrievably altered. We went on a tumultuous journey together, and this is the story of that journey – the tears, the laughter, the crazy, quirky things which happen when you’re in hospital for 3 months, and the many kindnesses of friends, family, and strangers alike!
If you’re anything like me, you find ‘hospital stories’ rather depressing, and sometimes dry! I give you my word, I’ve done my best to make sure this story is anything but that. Rather than coming up with a list of ‘lessons learnt’ Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour is simply me opening up the window of our lives for three months, and inviting you along on the journey.
I’ll be sharing snippets of the memoir on the blog up until publication, so here’s three little snippets from the first chapter as an early Christmas gift!
Excerpts from Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour
You can read an x-ray and tell someone they’ve broken their wrist.
You can glance at a CT and tell someone they may have kidney stones.
You can’t study an MRI and tell someone they have a brain tumour.
Even if it’s true.
I haven’t quite finished my final year of radiography, but I still know this much.
A phone call
‘Jasmine had her MRI today. You know, the one the doctor -’
‘Anyway, they gave us the printed out scan right then! All the pictures. Is that normal?’
I shrug out of habit. ‘I don’t know. So there’s no report yet?’
‘No just the pictures, and Emily, I think she has something.’
‘Has something? Has what?’ A brain? Unexpected, certainly, but hardly worth a phone call. I crane my neck. Or a missed bus.
‘I don’t know, I can’t read it properly. I just looked at the brain and there’s something there, and I thought you’d be able to read it. When are you home?’
The back of the graffitied bus shelter rubs against the high wall of Rookwood Cemetery. It’s the largest burial ground in the southern hemisphere, according to Wikipedia. Ironic, really. A Health Science University campus, dedicated to saving lives, across the street from an overgrown, sprawling reminder of death.
Annoying little sisters don’t have ‘things in their brains’. The MRI will be normal.
I relax on the metal bench. It can’t possibly be otherwise…
Want to read more? For updates and more snippets throughout the year, add your email below.
Don’t worry, I won’t be flooding your inbox. Neither of us have time for that!
New monthly posts will begin again next year, and for now here are some of my reflections on Christmas, the New Year, and holidays in the context of chronic illness:
Many of us are probably well acquainted with this idea. A tiny niggling pain, a doctor’s visit, a diagnosis – and suddenly, nothing will ever be the same again.
We constantly live on the edge of this uncertainty. All of us – every day, every minute.
Covid19 and chronic illness
For as long as I can remember I have known I will not have my mum forever, and yet that split second phone call during my lunch break at work when I heard she had a mass in her pancreas still changed everything.
For as long as I can remember I’ve devoured books where dramatic things happen. Kids die too young; people are wounded in battle; last minute inheritances save the day; all is lost and all is rescued over and pver again. Yet I still remember exactly where I was when I found out that my ten year old friend had died suddenly from an undiagnosed brain tumour.
Likewise, I suspect that while many of us may “know” the speed with which reality can be remade, these past few weeks of of COVID-19 have also come as a bit of shock. No one really expects a pandemic. Not many people imagine that soon their actions – perhaps already severely curtailed by disease or circumstance – will be hedged further by governments seeking to prevent disaster.
What’s your goal in troubled times? As much as we’re often told that it’s okay to simply survive, most of us, if we’re completely honest, want more than that.
We want to turn something bad into something good. Something worthwhile. Maybe even something precious. There’s a reason so many cancer tragedies end in the formation of an organisation or charity. There’s a reason we prefer tales of people who have overcome illness, rather than the much more common stories of being overcome.
Christians talk a lot about peace. So much so that it’s easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong it you’re not an unflappable yogi during trials.