The problem with chronic illness and social media

It’s hard to share about chronic illness on social media. Here are three reasons why.

Sharing about chronic illness on social media

It’s difficult. Particularly when you are only watching someone else’s battle.

That I think this might come as a surprise, due to the slight fact that this website is full of articles! Not to mention, I have associated facebook pages, groups, pinterest, google plus and twitter accounts! That’s a lot of social media.

Yet each time I share about the place of chronic illness in my life (as someone who has sick family members, but is not ill myself), I struggle. It’s a hard topic to think and talk about – let alone share online with everyone and anyone!

Of course, I share because I want to. It is an immeasurable blessing, and in fact is so much part of who I am, I feel I can’t not share… but I still find it a battle. And so I’m posting this here, and on Facebook and twitter and pinterest and all of the other social media places, in the hope that perhaps other people find it scary too.

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How to love our Wider Watchers

It’s easy, for us Watchers, whose lives are so embroiled with the pain of our Loved One, to forget those around us who aren’t Watchers. To overlook the lives of those Wider Watchers – our friends, our relations, our own other loved ones, who watch us as we Watch our suffering Loved Ones.

This is the final post is a short series about Wider Watchers. In Who are the Wider Watchers? We thought about how we are all actually Wider Watchers to some extent, and Wider Watchers (unlike Watchers) have the choice to Watch and to love, and this makes their sacrifice even more beautiful. In When our Wider Watchers hurt us? We pondered what it looks like to respond when Wider Watchers hurt us or our Loved One through their words or actions. In this post, we will discuss what it means to love our Wider Watchers, how to care for those around us who are not Watching as we are.

Why is this important?

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Who are our ‘Wider Watchers’?

What about all the rest?

We’ve talked about Loved Ones, those of us who suffer day in and day out from either physical or mental illness. We’ve talked about Watchers, us whose lives are directly affected by their illness, and are called to love them, yet are unable to help them.

But what about those who fit into neither category? What about those who do not battle chronic pain, yet do not do life closely with those who do?

Do we need to address them?

Do they have a place on this blog?

Is their interaction with sickness and pain even slightly comparable to our own?

What if… they are us?

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Long distance Watching (Part 2)

This is the 2nd part of a series on Watching a Loved One suffer from a distance. In Part 1 we looked at the fact that it is hard to help out physically when you live a long way away. This post looks at some of the other difficulties we may encounter. So without further ado…

It’s difficult to care as much about something when you’re not confronted with it every day.

This is why we are often more distressed about our 3 year old’s tantrum than a war in a 3rd world country. What we see and experience affects us. It seems more real, not only because we are a firsthand witness but because it actually disrupts our life. Thus, it is more difficult to Watch when we do not see our Loved One regularly. It is genuinely hard to place as much importance on their struggles. Not because our love is less, but because it makes up less of our day.

What should we do?

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Wait! I feel guilty.

They are sick and I am not.

I can leave the house. They cannot.

I can eat anything I want. They must not.

Guilt is an emotion that it is easy to struggle with after a diagnosis of chronic illness. When we as Watchers see how the illness is impacting our Loved One’s lives, and envision how it will continue to impact their lives,… the guilt creeps in.


Continue reading “Wait! I feel guilty.”

Watching changes nothing

It is a blunt title, and yet… it’s true.

Watching changes absolutely nothing.

Nil. Zero. Nought.

That, my friends, is the reality. As Watchers, we are not needed. We cannot actually do anything. Life goes on and we Watch, and nothing changes.

If there was a list entitled ‘how to change the world’, Watching wouldn’t be on there.

Try as we might, we cannot fix the situation. We can’t heal our Loved Ones. We can’t be their knight in shining armour and swoop down onto the battle field and sweep them off their feet and carry them to safety.


It’s just not possible. If wishes were horses beggars would ride. But they’re not, so instead we crawl through the mud and swear when we tumble into a pit and lose sight of our Loved One. Illness and circumstance are some of Life’s non-negotiables. We are not God. Watching changes nothing, except perhaps ourselves.

We cannot carry their burdens

Not only can we not save them, but we cannot even bear their burdens beside them. I touched on this in the first post, and it is still true. We can help them, we can aid them, we can take care of all their physical needs – but in the end they alone must bear their illness. They must go down into valley of darkness in their own strength, not ours. As Sam tells Frodo in Tolkien’s The Return of the King: “I can’t carry it for you.”

Watching doesn’t make their sufferings special

Thirdly, our presence does not sanctify their sufferings. There’s a sort of unspoken belief at times that when people suffer they somehow do so for the people around them. That they become An Example and in doing so their sufferings become worthwhile. Yet individuals do not suffer ‘for the (unknown) greater good’ in this sense, and it is risky to think so. As if our presence as Watchers makes something horrific acceptable and provides their miseries with purpose! If only that was all it took to redeem suffering.

Let us not insult our Loved Ones. Their suffering is not made acceptable by our presence. To believe so is to belittle what they go through. It is also dangerous because it belittles the misery of those who suffer alone. Must the ‘purpose’ of suffering be so obvious as to simply be the edification of the people who watch?

John Green touches on this in The Fault in Our Stars, with Hazel and Gus’ sarcastic rejoinder: “They are an Example to us all. Oh how we admire them!”

Watching doesn’t make their suffering important

Watchers are not needed to make suffering valid. God alone makes suffering valid, and He does so in each and every case, because He uses every life for His glory. Every tear has a part in His eternal plan. If I were to suffer utterly alone, in the deepest depths of the earth, if not one living purpose heard my cries, there would still be a purpose to it. After all, what humans do not see, spiritual powers do. It is enough if angels weep and demons shudder (Ephesians 3:10). For more on this see When God Weeps, by Joni Earekson Tada.

Our helplessness is a relief

The truth that Watching changes nothing is a hard one. It is a blow to our pride. It is yet another demand for us to admit our helplessness. We cannot become proud of Watching while we remember it. We are not Saviours; we need a Saviour.

This truth is also a relief. It ought to remove some of our burden. It is not up to us to fix the life of our Loved Ones. When we fail, when we are not there when we should be, when our Loved One has to go through something alone, when we run away, when we give up, when we don’t know the answers – that is okay.

It’s not up to us.

That task is in the hands of One who is much more capable than we will ever be. While we Watch, He Does – and that is how it should be.

[If you feel this is a bit one-sided, the sequel to this post is “Watching changes everything” and is coming next week!]

//Do you find it comforting or distressing to realise that Watching changes nothing? Are you satisfied to keep Watching in light of that? Why/Why not?

Join the conversation! Comment below.


7 Reasons Watching someone you love suffer is the WORST

It’s awful watching someone we love suffer. But why is that?

(updated November 2017)

Is there anything worse than seeing someone you love suffer? When my little sister was in hospital for three months, I thought many times it would be easier if it were me instead.

Me with a brain tumour.

Me shaking in pain.

Me screaming in agony.

But I wasn’t given the option to exchange lives. And you probably haven’t been either. So in the name of honesty here are 7 reasons why watching someone you love suffer is the worst: are these reasons the same for you?

7 reasons watching someone we love suffer is the worst.

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