RA ravages our body but often we are the only ones who “see” it. I saw a photo on FB last week illustrating invisible illness by using a potato. The potato looks ordinary on the outside like an average potato, but in the second photo, it has been sliced in half and you can see the decaying structure on the inside evidenced by a large black hollow spot in the middle with nooks and crags leading to the edges of it’s ordinariness on the outside. People with RA are like that potato. We look fine on the outside while inside we are ill. We feel bad but we don’t look that bad. Sometimes it takes many years of internal joint destruction and assault on our organs for us to “look” sick.
Because RA is an invisible illness, it adds to the distress of our minds. People are judgmental. If you don’t look sick then you must not be sick according to the court of public opinion. You get glared at for parking in a handicap parking space even though your doctor and the government has declared you are ill enough to have that rear view mirror place card. One day we go from being non-functional, curled up in bed unable to participate in life to being able to go out in public the next day, literally. Many times spouses, family, friends don’t understand the peaks and valleys of illness and it just makes the mental aspect of this disease much tougher. All these changes often lead to chronic depression. But what about when the disease actually affects your mind beyond depression? In your head you said the right word or leave out part of the story but it didn’t come out of your mouth that way and the person you are trying to converse with looks at you with a quirked eyebrow and either laughs, corrects you, or silently judges you for being on too many meds. Brain fog is a real aspect of many chronic illnesses especially those in the autoimmune family. In addition, worry creeps in. You might worry about how far will this illness go, to what degree you will be physically handicapped, if you can bear the pain, how you can pay all the medical bills, and if it’s just too much for others to handle.
Although we have little control over what the disease does to our bodies and limited control over what the disease does to our minds, I do feel we have full control over what the disease does to our spirit. Nurses are taught early in our course work that you treat the whole person: body, mind, spirit but our main focus is on the body. We educate and help with understanding also which deals with the mind, but not as much as focusing on the physical aliments of disease. Somewhere along the way though, addressing the spirit has been lost which has been in part perpetuated with societal views regarding “religion”. Nurses have become afraid to broach the subject of spirit with patients because they don’t want to offend. I can also see on the flip-side as a patient, we sometimes fail to address our spirit when we are ill because the physical and mental aspects of disease keep us so preoccupied.
I believe that disease can wreck your body and it can have its toll on your mind but it cannot touch your spirit unless you allow it. This isn’t a disease for wimps; it will either make you stronger or it will crush you. As you think about your disease and all the things it has taken from you, do you ever consider the strength of spirit that you might have found while battling illness? I have. I know that it’s not my own strength, but God’s. I cannot imagine traveling this road of illness without God. When others don’t understand God does. So many times I hear from rheumatoid disease patients that “no one understands; no one cares”. God cares! He didn’t do this to you. So many people are angry at God and blaming God or saying God has checked out and doesn’t care, but I am here to assure you there is a God and he loves me and he loves you! We are the ones who “check out”. God is always there. He will give you a strength of spirit you never had before: His Spirit.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 of the Bible “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest”. There are none more weary or heavy burdened than the chronically ill. The enemy would have you believe you are defeated, but God who is the creator of all, says otherwise. You are only defeated if you allow it. Treat your body and your mind, but don’t forget about your spirit. Having strength in spirit can help you handle the challenges presented to your body and mind.