One of the hardest things to deal with when you are living with an invisible illness or chronic pain is the lack of validation and support from family and friends. People tend to think that if they can’t see your illness, then it must not exist. They think that if you look fine then you must be fine, but so often that could not be farther from the truth.
When you are sick or in pain, you desperately need others to understand and provide support. You need friends and family to ask how you are doing and see if you need anything. You need help from the ones that you love, and you tend to expect it from the ones that love you. What actually happens is that people forget that you are in pain or living with illness because they can’t see anything physically wrong with you. They don’t ask how you are doing, and they don’t offer help. That is where the disconnect begins, because you then naturally get your feelings hurt. If you ask for help, some people will respond with grace and offer to help, but others will not understand and will think that because you look fine, you should not and do not need help. Even worse, some will think that you are just being lazy, and they might actually tell you so.
Somehow, it seems that the ones who should love and help you the most are often the ones who end up causing you the most hurt. They often are the ones who expect more of you then you are able to give. They are the ones that accuse you of laziness and act as if you are pretending what they cannot see. This lack of validation and support causes a deep loneliness that does not go away even when you are with the ones you love. It hurts to not be understood and supported. It hurts when the ones who love you do not provide the help you need. It hurts deep down in the depths of your soul and causes you to feel utterly alone in your struggle.
If this is the situation you find yourself in, be encouraged in the fact that you are not alone because God has promised to never leave you or forsake you. Hebrews 13:5-6 says
“For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ So [we] can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’” (New Living Translation)
The writer of the Psalms (in the Bible) was well acquainted with the feeling of being misunderstood and unsupported. He was David, the shepherd boy, the same David that faced the giant Goliath in battle and killed him with a rock and a sling. It was this same David that was anointed king of Israel but then had to run for his life from the reigning king, his own father-in-law, who was jealous of him. This king was named Saul, and even though David had never done anything to hurt Saul, he tried to kill David numerous times.
In 1 Samuel 23:14, we find David hiding in a desert wilderness, which was extremely hot with few places of respite and safety. David was hiding in caves, which the New Living Translation calls “strongholds in the wilderness.” (Don’t you love that description of God’s place of protection for David?) David sought God’s guidance and help at every turn in his life (see 1 Samuel 23:4). He relied on God for provision and protection. In Psalm 54, a song written by David about this time in his life, it says:
“God is my helper, the Lord keeps me alive. I will sacrifice a voluntary offering to you; I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good. For You have rescued me from my troubles and helped me to triumph over my enemies.” (Psalm 54: 6-7)
God will help us in the same way He helped David. He is our “stronghold in the wilderness” when we feel alone and misunderstood. God provided 600 men that supported and stayed with David in his wilderness journey and who pledged to fight with him and for him against Saul (1 Samuel 24:13). He kept David safe and prevented Saul from finding him (verse 14). He sent Jonathon, Saul’s son, to encourage him in his faith (verse 16). While we may not be hiding for our lives and need God to protect us from certain death at the hand of our enemies, we can be sure that He still cares for and watches over us in the same way that He took care of David during this time.
Later in his life in 2 Samuel 22:1-51, we find the song that David sang to God to give Him praise and glory for protecting him. It is also recorded in Psalm 18 where David penned the following words:
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my Savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” (Psalm 18:2, New Living Translation)
While David was hiding in the “strongholds of the wilderness,” he knew Who his real stronghold, protector, and helper was. He sought God’s help and found Him to be faithful. This God is the same God yesterday that He is today, and He is our stronghold, protector, and helper, as well.
In addition to letting God be your mighty fortress and real source of validation, following are some other practical ways you can fight the battle of loneliness:
- Reaching out to others when you are lonely is essential. Find a church or Bible study group where you can find friends. Bible Study Fellowship has groups all over the world where women (and also men) can fellowship and study the Bible together. You can find out more information about a group near you at bsfinternational.org.
- Find a support group for your particular illness so that you can be with people who understand. You can search for “support groups” in your area at local.com to find groups for all kinds of different needs.
- Search for online groups if you feel more comfortable in the online arena. Proverbs31.org has online Bible studies for women that offer small groups on Facebook while the Bible study is in progress. God-Living Girls (www.facebook.com/godlivinggirls) is an online community for women with chronic illness and/or pain that offers online Bible studies, a prayer group, and fellowship with others who understand what it is like to live with pain/illness. (For more information about God-Living Girls, contact Laurie at firstname.lastname@example.org) God-Living Moms, CafeMom, and Circle of Moms (all online) also have groups of all kinds for moms.
- Consider that you might be experiencing a clinical depression, as loneliness is a symptom of clinical depression. Other symptoms include feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, inability to sleep (or sleeping all the time), inability to eat (or eating all the time), tearfulness, and feelings of hurting yourself. Depression symptoms that last longer than two weeks can be successfully treated with either medication or counseling (although both combined has the highest success rate). If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please reach out to someone close to you, and tell them how you are feeling. You can also find help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Look for hobby groups in your area at ask.com. You will find all kinds of hobby groups that are both local and online.
- Begin reading Psalms (in the Bible) every day. You will find hope as you read through the poems and songs that David wrote while he was in the middle of difficult times in his life.
When you are feeling unsupported and like no one understands what you are going through, come to God for the help, guidance, and support you need. Read through David’s story starting in 1 Samuel 16 and see the ways in which God was faithful to him and provided for him. Read through the Psalms and find the same freedom that David found that allowed him to be honest with God about his hurts and frustrations. Let God encourage you in the same way that He encouraged David, and as you do so, you will find the strength that you need each day even when people are not giving you the help and support you need. Let God bring new people into your life that will give you encouragement in your journey. You will find the same strength and help that David had which enabled him to say
“But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love. I will praise you forever, O God, for what you have done. I will trust in your good name in the presence of your faithful people.” (Psalm 52:8-9, New Living Translation)
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Hi! My Name is Laurie, and I am a wife, mom, nurse, and patient living with fibromyalgia. I understand first-hand what life is like with chronic pain and illness. My passion is to help provide others with the spiritual encouragement and resources that I so desperately needed when I was first diagnosed. Please join us on the blog and Facebook page for regular encouragement and hope. Welcome!