Coping with a life-changing illness
Emily Ackerman was a doctor for before illness struck - but over the years has discovered new ways of living well
Jim loved being a minister. He worked long days, juggling family life with a busy diary and a houseful of people who’d dropped in and stayed for dinner. His congregation valued his caring personality, enthusiastic preaching and strong work ethic.
Then Jim started losing weight and visiting the loo a lot. After several weeks of this, he went to his GP, who sent Jim for tests. Jim was shocked to discover that he had colitis. He’d never heard of colitis and he’d never been ill in his life.
Jim hated being ill and off sick. He felt lost without his work and fretted over the needs of his congregation. Jim found it hard to leave the house, preferring to stay safely by the loo. His faith took a beating under all this change; he was no longer available to prop up others who faltered. The congregation were bewildered to see their beloved leader in this state. They wanted to help but they didn’t know what to say or do.
Jim’s story reveals the kind of losses and challenges faced by any Christian believer, however sincere and faithful, who hits a life changing illness. Jim and those around him feel unprepared for this new life season, yet he is in urgent need of suitable support and advice.
I decided to write a book about living with life changing illness after twenty years of illness and disability. Before I was sick I worked as a doctor but I had plenty to learn about being a patient. After two decades of on-the-job training, I knew I had ideas and strategies to share with other sick people.
I chose Joseph to be my Bible hero for the sick. With him alongside, a disaster begins to look more like an adventure.
I chose to tackle painfully important topics such as loss and grief, confidence, vision, healing and hope. I looked at difficult emotions, wobbly relationships, unruly symptoms, harsh limits, unemployment and facing a short life span. I wrote honestly about my own struggles, successes and failures. Then I added quotes and cartoons to lighten the load and questions to ponder along the way.
Over the years, I’ve found that other people facing major illness have a lot to teach me. Whether it’s depression, arthritis, cancer or ME, the type of illness is less important than the experiences we share. Health care professionals and people who care for ill friends or relatives also have plenty to offer. So I gathered useful stories, tips and insights to add to the mix.
While digging deep into the Bible for hope and comfort, I noticed the story of Joseph. His efforts to overcome loss, disappointment, suffering, rejection and imprisonment strike a powerful chord with me. I’m encouraged to find that nothing could prevent Joseph from reaching his God-given destiny, because he chose to walk with God. I chose Joseph to be my Bible hero for the sick. With him alongside, a disaster begins to look more like an adventure. Now there’s an interesting thought.
My vision for this book is to offer hope, comfort, renewed vision and practical advice to the likes of Jim. I want to give him the tools to thrive, come what may.
Here’s a taster:
‘Jo has angina. She often feels guilty because she feels she’s failed. She looks back at missed opportunities and an unhealthy lifestyle. She suffers today because she can’t meet her responsibilities. Then there’s the guilt see-saw; pacing versus the ‘to-do’ list.'
Sounds familiar? Here are some ideas to try.
“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19: 12-14
Diagnose your guilt. Healthy guilt, God-given conviction, is specific. It leads you to act, confessing your sin to God, putting things right and turning away from wrong. Once that’s done, it lifts. Toxic guilt, condemnation, is the devil’s counterfeit. It hangs over you no matter what you do. It’s safe to fight toxic guilt because it’s just another lie. Ask a wise friend if you’re in doubt.
Don’t brood over your shortcomings. God will show you the truth, if you’re open to Him. Here's a useful prayer:
Don’t shut out God. Offer him your daily path. He wants to draw close and provide for you in this battle.
Limit the time you spend thinking about guilt. Crowd it out by focussing on something better.
Cartoon: David McNeill
Emily Ackerman trained and worked as a doctor before illness put an end to her professional career. After 23 years of poor health and increasing disability, Emily is gratefully recovering. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and lots of green things. She has been a Baptist for most of her life and is an active member of Central in Edinburgh (formerly known as Morningside Baptist Church).
The Amazing Technicolour Pyjamas is Emily’s second book, and is published by Muddy Pearl, available from CLC bookshops or post free from www.muddypearl.com