Why small talk is so important in chronic illness (& why I neglect it!)

A while ago I read a fascinating article about phatic communication, or ‘small talk’. Phatic communication is speech which serves a purpose other than that implied by the words used. An example would be the question, “how are you?”

What this question is actually asking is, “how are you physically/mentally?” Yet how many of us actually answer this? And why don’t we?

It’s not because we’re being rude or ignoring the question. In fact, often askers are surprised when someone lists their current physical health in response! It’s because we understand that in our social context the question is often merely a greeting, a social nicety which has to be used before the ‘proper’ conversation can begin.

An example of phatic communication (small talk!)

Often when I run I call out a (breathless) ‘hi!’ or ‘good evening/morning!’ as I pass someone by. About 3 times out of ten, someone will reply. Out of that 30%, at least half reply with ‘good thanks’ or ‘I’m well thanks’ – despite the fact that I never asked if they were!

This is because they are so used to ‘how are you’ being part of ‘hello’ and other social niceties (or nonenties!) that they assume I’ve asked and thus reply automatically.

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3 places not to place your hope in during chronic illness (and one place you need to!)

In every day life, most of us depend on our health – for the future, for happiness, for security. When your health or the health of a loved one is ripped away because of chronic illness, it’s easy to be left despondent.

After that awful, sinking feeling of having the foundation of your life pulled out from underneath your feet, our natural response it often to quickly rebuild.

We hunt desperately for a new foundation, a new hope. But what will it be? Sometimes it’s easy to break our hope into little bits and place it in different baskets.

3 places not to place your hope in during chronic illness

ONE: Medical Intervention

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Why you should widen your perspective (and how)

“There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet

We live in a big world. It’s 40 thousand kilometres wide, with 7.5 billion people. There are 2 thousand types of jellyfish and 3 thousand varieties of pears.

How often do you stop to ponder the universe?

If you are a Watcher or a Caregiver, sometimes the world does not feel that big. Our hours and thoughts are occupied with one person. Our daily routines may not take us particularly ‘far afield’. Life, which in reality is BIG, can feel (and be!) very small.

Oh no, you may protest. I don’t live in a bubble! I watch TV. I listen to the radio. I get the news on my phone.

That’s good… but it’s not the same as genuinely experiencing the world first-hand, is it? Media such as TVs, newspapers etc. can give us a sense of the “busyness” of the world, or the “angst” of the world – but do they really help us understand the “bigness” of the universe?

I don’t have time, you may counter. “Experiencing the world” (whatever that means) is a luxury I can’t afford. That’s for other more fortunate people.

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How chronic illness changes your perspective of home (and what to do about it)

Home is where your heart is. Your home is your castle. Home away from home. Home sweet home…. the sayings go on.

We assume home is a safe haven, a place of refuge and rest. Yet when chronic illness is involved, even our understanding of ‘home’ gets complicated.

“Is home a place of rest for you, if your Mum is ill all the time and you never know how she’ll be?”

A long time ago, somebody asked me this question. I was indignant. As a teenager, my thoughts ran like this: Are you suggesting that I come from an unhappy home? Firstly, it’s none of your business, and secondly I have a good family and a good home –

The truth is, I did (and do) come from a “happy home”. Yet the question made such an impact on me that I remember it all these years later, because it was something I’d never thought of before:

How does chronic illness in the family affect the definition of ‘home’?

Or, to be more personal: how does your family member’s struggle with chronic illness affect your home life?

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Why you should attend your loved one’s doctor’s appointment (and how to be prepared)

A while ago someone I know was diagnosed with a chronic illness. After the initial diagnosis, she had to make an appointment to see yet another doctor. Before this appointment, I was chatting with her daughter and realised something rather abruptly: there is an art to accompanying someone to the doctor.

I’ve been to many doctors’ appointments in my life, both for myself and others. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this, but I AM used to them.

And perhaps, not everyone is.

As a Watcher, a doctor’s appointment raises several questions: If it’s not for us, should we go? Is it important that we be there? What is our role? Are there reasons we shouldn’t attend?

Every situation is different and so is every person. I don’t think there are right or wrong answers, but I also think we can be a valuable asset at a doctor’s or specialist’s appointment. Here’s why:

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How to write a Get Well Soon card (to someone with a chronic illness)

Get Well Soon cards are great for broken legs and pneumonia – but do you do when someone won’t ‘Get Well’ (soon or otherwise)?

If you’ve ever browsed a two-dollar shop (as we call them in Australia), you’ll know there are many types of cards you can purchase.

Happy Birthday; Congratulations on your baby/engagement/anniversary; My Sympathy; and Get Well Soon cards. This last category can be somewhat disconcerting in the context of a chronic illness.

Of course, the easy solution is to buy your card without those words printed on the front.

But the problem goes deeper than that – what do you write in a card for someone who’s not going to get better? Should you send a card at all? How often? What’s the point?

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How to make hospital visits less awkward

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in hospitals, both visiting Loved Ones and working. It’s made me realise that visiting someone in hospital is not quite the same as taking someone out for coffee or popping over to see someone at their house.

In fact, for many of us, visiting someone in hospital might be a novel, somewhat unsettling experience. Perhaps we have bad memories of other hospital visits, or perhaps we’ve never been to one before.

For others of us, a hospital visit might seem easy and we don’t understand why we can’t just pop in at any time with whoever we like.

While neither perspective is ‘wrong’ (and I have held both at different times) they can both miss the point.

Visiting someone in hospital is not about us, how easy or difficult it is, or how it makes us feel.

Visiting someone is about loving them.

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Why must we express our anger to God? (Book Review: A Sacred Sorrow)

“Lament” is an old fashioned word. I can often be more of a ‘let’s just move on’ sort of person myself. Yet the Bible teaches that there’s something sacred about our sorrow.

I’ve recently finished A Sacred Sorrow: reaching out to God in the lost language of Lament. This book by Michael Card was given to me by a friend after my mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

I must admit I thought I knew quite a bit about turning to God in the midst of sorrow, but this book helped clarify and stretch my understanding.

Most of all, it helped me understand why it’s important to cry out to God – even when I’d prefer just to ‘move on’.

If you want to an overview of the book, read on. If you want to skip to my assessment, scroll down!

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Twenty-eighteen – your favourite posts

My hope is that so far 2019 has been full of Hope, anticipation and quiet assurance for you all! Since we’re still in the early days of the new year, what better time to do a little reflection?

For those of you who have so far found the New Year disappointing, may you find something to celebrate in saying goodbye to 2018.

It’s time for some stats! I thought I’d continue the tradition

Last year the introductory posts: But what is Watching? and the About Me tab were very popular. This year they have slid down the list… nice to know we’re all on the same page now 😉

This year also saw the first interviews of other Watchers, which were very exciting – thank you to Helen and Mary for being willing to share your stories!

Another exciting feature of this year was my partnership with Chronic Joy who do a wonderful job of exploring the intersection of Jesus and Chronic illness.

Anyway, without further ado –

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Celebrate Endings not Beginnings this New Year

Happy New Year!

It’s that time again.
The time when we celebrate new beginnings and new life.
Fresh starts and bright futures.

The New Year is a wonderfully invigorating time. It’s so empowering to be able to ‘reset’ your life, to hope anew, to re-make plans.

Yet as lovely as it is, sometimes we don’t have the emotional (or physical) energy to look forward. There are seasons where life has worn us down and we don’t dare envision a better year ahead.

In chronic illness, there is often no healing to look forward to. Only the hard reality that this is just going to get worse. Even in diseases which aren’t degenerative, times goes on, bodies get older, and circumstances get more difficult.

Perhaps this year you are in this camp. The ‘I find it hard to have hope’ camp. The ‘there are not going to be any brighter futures for me’ camp.

If this is the case, I’m not going to try and convince you that you’re wrong. That you should hardheadedly believe that ‘things WILL get better’.

Instead, I’m going to recommend that instead of celebrating Beginnings this New Year, you celebrate Endings.

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