Tag Archives: illness

Illness and wellness are not binary

Illness – a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.

Wellness -a state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.

I was ill with anorexia and depression for many years. I spent a long time in recovery, making steps towards wellness, it was a tough journey but I got to the point where I felt I could say I was recovered a couple of years go.

A stable mood, a stable weight, a life focused on the future rather than having to focus on managing my mental health and many other markers of freedom have been reached.

But I still have to do a lot to manage my mental health. To maintain my mood I need to manage my weekly and daily routine so that I manage my energy levels, get enough rest and carefully consider how much stress is acceptable and what activities I can manage. I practice mindfulness as it helps me stay in the here and now rather than panicking about the future or dwelling in the past.

To stop myself spiralling into anorexia, I have to eat regularly but avoid rituals or strict habits. Over eating and under eating are ok but I must always be on the watch for the “anorexic voice” – it’s easily triggered by today’s diet culture chatter and irresponsible social media postings.

I am no longer “ill” and I “actively pursue” wellness.

I have heard some people say they are chronically ill because they will be on medication for the rest of their lives. I have tried coming off my medication, tapered gradually, but my symptoms returned. I have had to come to terms with the fact that I will probably be on medication for the rest of my life – but I don’t consider that to be the definition of illness.

Someone who has high blood pressure usually manages their blood pressure with lifestyle and medication in order to keep their blood pressure within normal limits. Someone who has diabetes uses lifestyle, medication and/or insulin to keep their blood sugars within normal ranges. Equally, I use lifestyle and medication to manage my mental health.

Even though I continue to need to manage my mental health I don’t think considering myself as an ill person is helpful. For some people, holding onto an identity as an ill person can have a negative impact on self esteem and ability to develop and grow as a person. But if I consider myself well and/or recovered, there’s the risk I might take my eye off the ball and not give my health the attention it needs.

So if I am neither ill nor well, what am I?!

Maybe I don’t need a label for what I am!

Sometimes I am more well than others – I have to work hard to stay well, that does not mean I am ill. I do not have to let this define me. I’m learning, despite what some people will have you think, not fitting into a category isn’t a bad thing!

How do I believe in a God who allows suffering?

We are all too painfully aware of suffering and if we are touched by it we are bound to ask questions, we generally want to know why it’s happening?
If God exists, maybe there are a few possibilities, either:

  • he is not all powerful or
  • he is not all loving or
  • he just doesn’t care/can’t be bothered/is lazy.

I do not believe in a God who causes suffering, nor do I believe in a God who actively wants us to be in pain or sits back watching us in pain.
My experience
I have been to some of the darkest places on earth through suffering the torture of depression. At times, my mind was so broken that I could not see a way through the emotional pain so the only way it was going to stop was if I ended my life. Some people have experienced physical or spiritual pain that has taken them to a similar place.
I believe in a God who knows my pain, a God who experiences my pain with me. I am his child, when I’m in pain, his heart breaks.
I also believe God has experienced the ultimate pain of seeing his one and only Son be put to death for crimes he did not commit. And it’s by his wounds I believe I am free (but that’s another blog).
Illness and healing
When it comes to illness, the fact is, our bodies go wrong. What’s fantastic about our bodies is that they often get stronger as they heal. Healed muscle fibres are stronger, this would not happen if little tears didn’t happen.
When my mind was sick, I could have wished (prayed) for instant healing but I never did. When I could think rationally I knew the recovery journey would be worth it and make me stronger.
Our bodies are incredibly complex machines that require very fine balances to function, things will go out of balance for all sorts of reasons, some things we can control (and we chose not to at times), others we can’t.
Perfect isn’t so simple
Some could say that God should have made our bodies perfect and that they should not go wrong. Christians believe everyone of us is made in the image of a God and that we are all perfect in his eyes. Creating a “perfect” world is not as simple as is sounds. For example:

  • Would the body contain water? Vital for life as we know it but only a small amount is capable of drowning.
  • Would the body contain bacteria? Vital for digestion but can also cause deadly diseases.
  • Do we want a body that can experience pain? If we do not feel pain we would not withdraw our hand from the hot iron, nor would we know if we’d swollowed a fish bone.
  • We’ve been given wonderfully beautiful minds that have invested medicines and make great technological advances but we also use our intelligence to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

If everything was good and perfect all the time we would have no concept of good or perfect. How would we know things were good if we had nothing to compare it to?
Turning despair on its head
Some people are able to look at their disability or illness in such a way that it is a gift. To some this may sound very bizarre. It is a fact that mental illness exists, if I had not suffered, I would not feel passionate about raising awareness about injustices, stigma and discrimination. I have met a whole new world of people, some of the kindest and gentlest people I know. If I had not gone through therapy I would not have developed such clear understanding of how my mind works and my relationships wouldn’t have gained the benefits.
God as a parent figure
Some people find it helpful to think of God as a parent figure. Let’s consider the parent who protects their child from everything. These children are not allowed to play in the stream, they do not tear their trousers, they never graze their elbows, these children will not develop a healthy immune system. Children wrapped in cotton wool are not allowed to play conkers or tag, they do not watch upsetting TV programmes, are protected from anything that might hurt them physically or mentally and do not develop skills to assess risk and take responsibility for their actions.
My parents gave me opportunities to make choices, sometimes I have made wrong choices and these have harmed me, I have learnt far more powerful lessons from these times than if I’d just been told what I should and shouldn’t do. My Father God has done the same, I am glad I am free to take risks, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow. He has gifted me with free will.
Free will
God has overcome evil but he has given human beings free will to follow Satan if they choose to. God asks us to choose him but he cannot force us to, otherwise it would not be true free will.
So, if we accept that stuff happens, whether it’s illness or poor decisions, surely God can just put things right when they go wrong? The way I see it is that we would not learn to look after ourselves if someone else could automatically click their fingers every time we stuffed up.
Something God does offer, to help us through the tough times, is a unique relationships with him.
Who am I to say?
When we object to suffering we are suggesting that we have the right to decide what is right and wrong. But who are we to decide that our right is right and our wrong is wrong? One person’s right could be another person’s wrong. We’re all aware of the saying that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Even between my husband and I (who agree on most things) have opposing views regarding WMD (called a nuclear deterrent when we want to deminish their destructive nature). My black and white belief is that they are evil and every single one should be (safely) destroyed, my husband has more grey views, believing they are a political necessity (but would not have them in an ideal world). Who am I to say my view is any more right than my husband’s?
Perhaps we should take responsibility
When it comes to natural disasters, have you ever wondered why we build settlements on faultlines or in the shadow of a volcano? Why, as a world, do we allow the poorest of our world to live in the most dangerous places, meaning not only their homes but their lives are at risk? Why do we jump into action when the disaster happens, running crisis plans, blaming and getting angry at God for allowing it to happen? Why do we not act before the disaster happens? Why do we not use our intelligence and moral compass to declare dangerous sections of the world uninhabitable and make sure every single person in the world has a safe place to live?
I’m not saying it’s easy, nor do I have all the answers, these are just a few of my humble thoughts about how I make sense of it.
In conclusion I believe God chooses to use his power wisely, he does not callously decide some people will be in pain while others will be spared. When in the midst of suffering we may think things are simple but if we’re able to step back and consider the bigger picture, the subject of suffering is not as black and white as it feels. My experience is that God loves us so much, he offers himself as a companion in the pain, he doesn’t just watch us, he experiences it with us and carries us if we ask him to.
A broken world will throw trials at us, we have God given freedom to choose to go through our trials with him or without him.