Find a Chronic Illness Support Group (Lessons from the Darkness)

Chronic Illness Support Groups (Lesson 6 from the Darkness)
Lesson 6 from the Darkness: Chronic illness support groups and other kinds of community support can help.

When even daily tasks like cooking and bathing feel overwhelming, how can you help but feel alone? It can be isolating to have an illness that prevents you from enjoying your favorite sports or hobby and that makes socializing feel like a draining task.

Chronic disease affects nearly half the adult population in the United States. (Chronic disease is a condition that lasts last longer than three months.) It’s shocking but true. In fact, 147 million people struggle with an illness or disease that creates an uncertain future and that threatens their job, their social circle, and their self-esteem.

My point is that you are not alone. You don’t need to suffer in isolation. Whether your condition is diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or a chronic infection like Lyme disease, you can find a chronic illness support group — either a local in-person group or an online community.

Lesson 6 from the Darkness – Community Can Help

Seek Non-Judgmental Support

Chronic disease attempts to separate you from your humanity. Reclaim yourself.

When I was first diagnosed with Lyme disease, I thought that a visit to the doctor and some antibiotics would be all that I needed. I learned how wrong I was over the next three — almost four — years.

Those were tough years. During that time, a cadre of old and new friends emerged (an informal chronic illness support group of sorts). What we all shared was the same diagnosis of chronic Lyme. Together, we gave each other advice, stories, and hope. We supported each other without fear of judgment or rejection. I am forever grateful.

Find a Chronic Illness Support Group That Can Supplement Medical Care

The collective advice of your group can help you find good medical care for your condition. In addition, your group can help you learn what questions to ask and how to advocate for your health so that you can get the most out of your professional care.

In conjunction with professional care, the group can encourage you to set and achieve realistic goals. They can provide emotional support for your self-management and provide personal advice on how to weather difficult medical regimens. They can also help you recognize progress that you might otherwise be unable to recognize on your own.

Help Others to Help Yourself

In the midst of the struggle, it can seem like too much to ask of yourself to reach out. You may be overwhelmed. You may fear rejection. But the thing is that we all feel pain, loss, sadness, and fear — sickness doesn’t discriminate.

I believe this with all my heart: connecting is worth the effort.

When you connect with others, the sense of community encourages compassion and empathy. When you help others, you listen and make others feel cared for and heard. In so doing, you strengthen yourself. When you support others in a group dynamic, you are also letting others feel the rewards of helping you. This give and take can be fundamental to letting a little light shine in the darkest of times.

The details of your story make you unique. You are the only soul in your body. No one else will feel everything that you feel. No one else can be responsible for healing your body.

Nonetheless, listening to others and feeling heard reinforce the universal connection between us all. So get connected. Find a group online. Or better yet, find a local in-person group and invite them over for conversation (and some good Phyllanthus niruri tea).

In Lesson 7 from the Darkness, I’ll talk about how chronic illness feeds on despair and anger, and I’ll discuss the importance of being kind to yourself.

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