Suffering of the Soul with Chronic Illness

If you are living with a chronic condition, or the caregiver to someone with a chronic condition, you may be familiar with suffering. Physical suffering is easy to see. But the nonphysical distress – the ‘suffering of the soul’ – with chronic illness is less obvious. How is this kind of suffering affecting your mental, social, and spiritual health?

back view beach clouds dawn. Represents the suffering of the soul when living with chronic illness.
Photo by Riccardo Bresciani on

Often, we need traditional medicine and science to relieve or mitigate physical suffering. For instance, taking medication, going to therapy or undergoing surgery. Or, maybe you manage your physical health with the science of healthy behaviors. These can include exercise, healthy eating, no smoking, and good sleep.

But where do you go to address nonphysical suffering? What can you do to relieve the suffering of the soul with chronic illness, like:

  • broken or lost relationships
  • loneliness
  • anger
  • grief
  • loss of purpose
  • struggling to find meaning in difficult circumstances
  • financial stress

To help someone live as well as possible with chronic illness, we need to acknowledge the suffering of both body and soul.

What are Your ‘Its’?

There are, in fact, many ways to “treat your soul.” But let’s take a step back. Do you know what’s ailing your soul? What is causing your suffering? Your first reaction might be to say, “Yeah, I am exhausted, anxious, fearful, angry…”

But do you have clarity on what, exactly, is causing you to feel that way?

A couple of years ago I read a book called, “God Is Able,” by Priscilla Shirer. In the beginning of the book, she invites you to name your ‘it’ – the thing in your life that you are struggling with. As she describes it:

“It’s always there. Just when you think you’ve maybe figured out a little piece of it – how you might be able to handle it better, manage it, work around it, or get out ahead of it – it always seems to end up beating you, or at least keeping you awake in the wee hours of the night.”

Priscilla Shirer, God Is Able

Then she challenges you to name your ‘it.’ (By the way, you can have more than one ‘it’.) I took some time and came up with 5 things that were bothering me. These were things I was struggling with again and again. I had tried to fix them or figure them out. But with no success.

I was ready to read this book because I was ready for change. My mental well-being was low. I was irritable with my family (that might be putting it kindly), miserable at work, and struggling to see where my life was heading or should be heading.

A First Step

So, I wrote the five things down, in no particular order. As I stared at the list, I initially felt lost, as if I couldn’t control any of them. After all, they made the list because I had been struggling with them for some time. But as I stared at the list further, I saw that there were in fact 2 things I could have some control over. Two things I could start working on immediately. I’ll give you an example.

I am a mother to four children. I felt confident as a mother with three children. Why would I expect anything different with another child? However, from the moment she was born, she was a handful (I say that with total love). My first three children took a pacifier, not my fourth. Not one day did she take a pacifier. And not only that, she cried all the time. Nothing could soothe her. She could cry for hours.

My first three learned to sleep through the night by 12 weeks when I was returning to work. Not my fourth. She woke up in the middle of the night nearly every night until she was over a year old. My first three were potty trained at 3 years old. Not my fourth. She suffered from encopresis, a severe form of constipation, until she was 5 years old. That meant diapers and accidents a full 2 years longer than any of my other children.

At some point along the way, I became a “Momster.” (Mom + monster) Tired from poor sleep and a hectic life. Sick of changing diapers. I was irritable and yelling all the time. Somewhere along the way I had broken down and morphed into a different person. I was no longer the mother I envisioned myself being.

I wanted to blame anyone but myself. But the truth is, I was responsible for my feelings and actions. I had gotten lost in the business of life. Now, I was hitting a new low and knew I needed to change course.

Where Can Change Begin?

When I wrote my list of ‘its’ down, I saw almost immediately that I am in control of what kind of mother I am. It was within my control to be a better mother. Now, I needed to commit myself to it and figure out how. Hoping that things would change wasn’t going to be a successful strategy. I had hoped for 2 years that my youngest would magically have no more accidents. No success.

I knew I needed to act and do something different. Even though I had 13 years of parenting experience, I realized I needed help with my parenting skills.

So, I did my research. It took some time, but I found a parenting class that was both affordable and I could take online on my own time. I had to watch videos at 11:00 at night when everyone else was in bed. It took me 3 months to finish the course, but I did it. There was no magic fix. I had to practice and implement the strategies every day. I learned how to communicate better and build better relationships with all my kids. The results were I stopped yelling and was no longer a “Momster.”

Don’t get me wrong. Parenting is still hard. I have days where I am tired, irritable, and I yell more than I want. But those days are much fewer than they used to be. And I feel closer to being the mother I want to be.

Finding Clarity

I was struck by how such a simple exercise gave me clarity on the 5 things that were bothering me most. Actually writing down my ‘its’ gave me clarity on what my problems were. I could see more clearly where I could have more control. In addition, I saw where change could start immediately.

Part of relieving suffering is to figure out exactly why you are suffering. You may know you have a general feeling of despair, exhaustion, anger, or worry. But what is your specific ‘it’? Maybe you have more than one, like me.

Spend some time thinking about your ‘its’. Give yourself the gift of at least 10 minutes to devote to this. Take a few days if you need to. Then, when you have your list, can you see where change is possible?

To read more articles like this, please visit The Chronic Wellness Coach website.

Disclaimer: This blog is a resource through which you may obtain information regarding your health and wellness.  Information is intended for the general reader and is not a substitute for medical advice.  The content in this blog is intended to be informational only and not interpreted as specific advice for you.  There may be delays, omissions, or inaccuracies in information contained in this blog. You should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional who is familiar with your health and past medical history before making any changes you may read about in this blog.

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