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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7 ways to use words to encourage someone with a chronic illness (without lying)

I sometimes find that ‘encouragement’ feels like lying, especially when it comes to chronic illness.

I want to cheer up my sick family member or struggling friend, but when I search through my “encouragement vocabulary” the gems I unearth are phrases such as:

‘It’s alright.’

‘It will get better.’

‘God will heal you.’

‘Good will come of this, just you wait.’

These comments sound nice and hopeful. They are genuinely designed to lift someone’s mood – but often I find they don’t ring true.

How can I tell my loved one ‘it’s alright’ – when it’s clearly, obviously, not?

How can I promise them ‘it will get better’ or ‘God will heal you’ or ‘good will come’ – when this might not be the case?

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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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What to do when you are unable to serve your local community due to sickness

There are seasons for all of us where we are not able to do all we want. When chronic illness enters the picture, these seasons can be long indeed. It can be especially difficult when we are unable to serve or help our local community.

For those of us who are part of a church, a neighbourhood, a sports club or a community group we know what it is to volunteer our time and energy. It is a worthwhile and often enjoyable experience.

It can be challenging and even draining, but there’s something about working as part of a team toiling towards a common goal that can be very uplifting.

If you are a Christian, it is also part of fulfilling Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour”.

Yet illness can get in the way of even our most passionate desires to serve. Being available for a Loved One struggling with their health can mean we are unable to give of our time or energy.

So what do we do?

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How to serve your local community when your family member is sick

What does it look like for us to love and serve other people besides our family member with a chronic illness? Is it possible? Is it necessary?

I’ve written previously about serving with a chronic illness, and serving overseas when someone you love has a chronic illness. But what about serving in your local church or community?

Should you serve your local community if your family member is sick?

If you are part of a local church or community, there are probably numerous opportunities to serve. Often during a Sunday morning worship service alone, you could potentially:

Play a musical instrument

Sing

Do a reading or announcement

Usher people in

Open up/lock up the building

Help in baby sit

Teach in Sunday school

Make coffee/tea

Clean up the kitchen/building

… and that’s all within the space of about two hours! Throughout the week there are often many other situations in which you can fulfil the Biblical commandment to serve and love one another.

Yet it’s not that easy, is it? Those of us who have a family member with a chronic illness can find all the opportunities to serve somewhat daunting. There is so much need… and yet perhaps we find ourselves ill-suited to fill it.

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I have a chronic illness: Is God calling me to sacrifice my health?

Dear Emily,

I have a chronic illness, and I’ve recently been challenged about what it looks like for me to serve, specifically in mission (whether domestic or overseas).

Today’s post is my thoughts in regards to a series of questions I was asked by Wendy.

Q1. Why does it seem noble to sacrifice personal comfort to serve God in a third world country, but not to sacrifice your energy (as someone who has chronic fatigue) to serve in my own country?

Firstly, I think you’re right when you say there’s a difference between giving up your health security in a general sense (moving to a 3rd world country) and specifically sacrificing it, knowing exactly what the consequences will be.

Both scenarios involve potential daily suffering, but they are different, and I think it’s very important to acknowledge that at the very beginning.

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Is it really better to give than to receive?

“It is better to give than to receive.”

This is an oft-quoted-out-of-context verse, but raises an important question: What if you can’t give? Is receiving only second best?

What if you feel like you do all the receiving and none of the giving?
Not all of us are positioned to ‘give’ at all times, in all places. Or sometimes when we do give, our gifts end up being more a hindrance rather than a blessing.

What then?
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What if they don’t understand? (Watchers we are not delegates!)

How often have you stood ‘in the place’ of your ill Loved One?
Maybe you’ve attended an event,
answered a question,
or formed a relationship,
which they simply could not.

Delegates are people who represent someone else to a community. They go forth in their place and explain the other person’s views, character and position.

Sometimes it’s easier to see ourselves, not as Watchers of our Loved One, but as their delegate to the outside world.
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