Eunice Beck, RN, on Reaching Out and Touching Someone When You Live with Chronic Illness

Dear Friends,

I have written about pediatric CFIDS/FM, and also about finding opportunities to learn and grow because our diseases make us slow down. In my local newspaper, I read of a great example of the unintended result when a child with CFIDS reached out from concern for the US troops in Iraq. This young man, named Ryan, lives in a town near my home. “A seriously ill teen from Arroyo Grande sent letters of support to troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, earning a surprise response that gave him an emotional boost.”*

The article says that Ryan, a student in a local middle school, “is in the midst of a flare-up with pediatric chronic fatigue syndrome and hasn’t been able to attend school.” While out of school, Ryan and his mother searched for addresses for local service members. Ryan, with his mother’s support, wrote to a young Marine named Erik, who is from this area. “The purpose was to support the troops,” said Ryan’s mom. “Instead Ryan wound up getting the support.”

Erik is described by his mother, who also lives in the area: “If you think of a Marine, he’s just a typical Marine guy. …But he has the biggest heart.” Erik’s response to the letter from Ryan was not just to answer him but to get his whole platoon, and another platoon to write to Ryan. In fact, some of the letters were written on “official stationery, possibly from Republican Guard Headquarters or another site.” Ryan says “Every day I love waiting for the letters. It gives me something to look forward to every day.” Ryan also sent some letters which were included in care packages sent from a local Air Force Base to deployed troops. Ryan has also received some mail from soldiers and airmen who received these packages.

Ryan’s mother says, “It’s uplifting his spirits,” “I’ve seen a change in him in the last several weeks… I’m so grateful because I do think the letters had a healing effect on Ryan.” Erik’s mother expressed her pride in her son for reaching out to Ryan.

Such a wonderful, heartwarming story, especially since it is true. I have emailed the writer a couple of times to clarify some details. It certainly gives us a reason to be proud of our military men and women, who took the time to write even though they were in a war zone. But it can also teach us other lessons, about reaching out and caring for one another, as human beings, and as people with chronic illness.

If a young teenager with CFIDS, who is too ill to go to school right now, can spend his energy to support someone he doesn’t even know, because that person is serving in the military, we, too, can reach out to others. It is likely we will get rewards similar to those Ryan got.

All of us need the support and understanding of other human beings. I am going through an especially difficult time right now dealing with the illness of a family member. All of our friends have been wonderful, offering help in specific and general ways. I know, too, that all my readers care when I have stressful times in my life, just as I care about your lives.

There are many places we can reach out. Our families, friends, churches, communities, can offer support of various kinds, dependent on our situation. We may even need to be in touch with our legislators, or other government officials for some problems. But the type of sustenance we need the most is the one-to-one human kind.

In person, so there are real hugs available, and a shoulder to cry on if that is what we need, is certainly the best. But cyber hugs work well too, and I have received many of those over time. There are many, many support groups online, for CFIDS/FM, or whatever other challenge you might be facing. I have made many friends this way. In fact one of them currently doesn’t have internet access, so I am actually snail mailing to her.

There are also many groups for other interests, which can get our minds focused on other things which sustain us: music, pets, hobbies, books. Some of those things which we can still do, even with these DDs. There are also many real time chat rooms. There are instant message services which allow you to actually talk to friends, as well as text message, without the long distance charges. For those of you who can afford a cell phone, there are many plans that have free long distance nights and weekends.

We all want to be loved, but sometimes we have to make the first move. We have to be friendly to have friends. This may require an extra effort from us even when we don’t feel well, but it will pay off in positive feelings of having the support of others. So, all of you have a homework assignment. Reach Out and Touch Someone!

Take care and be well.  Yours in health,

Eunice

*“Getting a lift from some Marines”, Janene Scully, Times Staff Writer, Santa Maria (CA) Times, May 28, 2003, page A1.

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Note: This article is not offered as the advice of a health care provider. The information and opinions included are intended to help you empower yourself with knowledge and participate in your own search for care. Any advice given is not intended to take the place of advice of your physician or mental health care provider. Always follow your physician's advice, even if contradicted by something written here. You and your physician know your situation far better than I do. – Eunice

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