Is it depressing supporting people living with chronic illness?

I was asked this question on holiday and felt really surprised by it.

My response was no, that it was some of the best work to be doing. I also talked about that people living with life-changing health issues, whether temporary or chronic, face a struggle many people never have to deal with. And this population deserves to have a good quality of life like anyone else and that is possible. I also rambled on about the nature of recovery and how society’s assumption of what it means.

This person asked me again, ‘But isn’t it depressing supporting people living with chronic illness?’

Again, I felt surprise and thought, I just answered the question. I explained that I did not find it depressing most likely because I experienced a serious illness which has had a permanent effect on my body. And how I appreciate what I can do like having the gin and tonic I was making for myself. I spoke about my other half’s mid-life brush with his mortality and how all this meant that we had both been there, been through it, and continue to deal with the illnesses’ ongoing impact. And that we are thriving.

I continued to say that for me serious illness has played a significant part in my life, it has been the inspiration for the work I do now. So no I do not find working with people with chronic illness depressing but incredibly rewarding, interesting and I continue to learn so much. And then talked about how my field of work could be relevant to their field of work, which was corporate social responsibility and ethics in the work place.

Afterwards at the dinner table I reflected on the conversation and felt like my response was a bit garbled and I had missed an opportunity.

This is what I wish I had said in response.

‘Good question. At times living with or witnessing another’s serious illness can be depressing. Are you thinking you would find it depressing to support people living with chronic illness?’

Acknowledging that their question is a valid question by saying, ‘Good question.’

…plus referring to their experience of witnessing a family member’s health decline due to a progressive illness (which they had told me about), and at the same time acknowledging that experience may have been difficult: ‘At times living with or witnessing another’s serious illness can be depressing.’

…and only then asking the question: ‘Are you thinking you would find it depressing to support people living with chronic illness?’ Particularly when they asked the question the second time.

This might have opened up a whole new conversation.

One I felt I had implicit permission to have given how our conversation was unfolding, the timing of it, where we were, and that they asked the question twice.

Whilst introducing ourselves to one another, the person initiated the topic of conversation referring to the conversation I had with their spouse earlier that day regarding what I do for a living. The person had also voluntarily talked about their experience of a family member’s  progressive illness.

It was just the two of us in the hotel’s honesty bar mixing our pre-dinner drinks so there was no one else listening in. This would not have been a long conversation. It could not be as we were both due to join our respective other halves for dinner.

The location and timing of our conversation was possibly safe enough for that person to raise a question possibly important to them at some level given they had voluntarily referred to their family member’s illness. (My use of the word ‘possibly’ is me holding my meaning-making lightly.)

Also, when a person says, ‘Do you think…’, many times that is reflecting what THEY are thinking and feeling about the topic being discussed.

I missed an opportunity.

To possibly leave the person with something of value to them to reflect on regarding supporting people living with chronic illness

What exactly that would have been, I don’t know as the conversation did not get that far. My question might have raised awareness of their possible assumptions towards serious illness. And maybe I could have shown how living with a challenging health issue doesn’t need to be depressing. That is the point I would have wanted to make.

There is reward in your struggle to live well with a chronic illness

Sometimes it is downright depressing to live with a serious temporary or chronic illness, whether your own or watching someone else go through it. The uncertainty, unwelcome restriction in use of your body (or a loved one’s), forced change in lifestyle, feeling like something else is in control of you, yeah, that can suck big time.

But it doesn’t have to be like that all the time.

To live well in life in general can be a struggle. A serious health issue can amplify that a thousand-fold. So the effort you put in and achievements you make to live well despite the very real constraints you live with are that much more valuable.

live life well with chronic illness

You have already achieved something of value today. Picture drawn by B Babcock 2017.

Recognising your effort and achievements, however insignificant those achievements may feel to you, is key to keeping any depressing aspects from taking over your life and keeping yourself in control.

Helping people to do just that is some of the most meaningful and needed work to be doing in this world.

What’s it like for you?

What has been the most surprising question you’ve been asked about living with a challenging health issue? How did you respond or wished you did? How do you remind yourself of the value of your achievements? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.

If you are living with a serious health issue or its after effects, or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to move beyond the depressive aspects of your situation, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

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