I have experienced both auto-immune disease and disability. I have rheumatoid arthritis and other arthritis-type diagnoses. I also have had Type 1, insulin-dependent, diabetes for more than 50 years. I’d like to share a number of things I have discovered along the way that have really helped me.
It can be scary when you are first diagnosed. Tell your doctor that you are scared. Ask if they have any reading material in layman’s terms that you could read, or a nurse who could do some patient education. Don’t do too much Internet research as it’s not always a reliable source of information.
You may discover that you’re really angry about the disease. It might “cramp your style.” There’s no problem with being angry and expressing it. I get angry about diabetes at times and make it known in no uncertain terms. Just wrestle your way out of it and don’t get stuck there. The disease does not define you. It is a part of your life, yes, but it is not your identity.
If you have both an auto-immune disease and a disability, it’s not easy. Sometimes being disabled can make it difficult to care for your auto-immune disease. Remember to ask Jesus for help. When friends and family ask you what they can do to help, it’s OK to ask for some support. They can pick up a few things at the store, help you re-organize a shelf so that things are in reach, fold laundry, do yard work, or replace a light bulb. It can be hard for us to ask for and accept help. But when someone offers to help, they are usually glad to do it because they enjoy expressing their kindness. And if we are to function as the Body of Christ, God wants us to help one another. Maybe you and the person helping you could have a little visit. That’s nice for both of you. Your presence in their life can be a real gift.
I try to work with my body instead of against it. When we collaborate with our body, giving it what it needs, then we can have more of what we want. We are not necessarily sick. We just have ongoing issues with which we must deal, neither ignoring them nor giving them all of our lives. We can still find ways to be our best selves. We can be an example just by being. When we take care of ourselves and get enough rest, we can often do what we need and want to do.
You are not a big lump of illness, even if you may feel like one. People love you and you love them. You are important as a human being. God came to be here with us, whatever our condition. Our purpose is to love God and enjoy God forever. God takes us just as we are with love. Some days we do more, some days less, but that is the way of all human beings. It is good to be who we are, even with disabilities and auto-immune diseases! Be good to yourself.
Jane Williams is a former nurse and a member of the New Covenant Church of the Brethren in Gotha, Florida.