Single and Chronically Ill

When I first published Surviving Singledom, a single lady came up to me and told me about her chronic illness. She shared about how much harder it was to cope with chronic conditions as a single person, largely because there was no-one with whom to share the burden of caring.

This lady described the things she had to do for herself: medical appointments, treatment, equipment around the house – all on a single income, of course. (Being chronically ill is a very expensive pastime.) When this lady was feeling particularly tired out by her illness, there was no-one to turn to for practical help or emotional support. She was effectively a self-carer.

This resonated with my own story of being chronically ill while single. I remember there were times when I experienced flare-ups of my illness and I had no-one to drive me to appointments or the hospital, no-one to pick up groceries for me, no-one to hold my hand and say soothing things when the pain was at its worst – in other words, I felt very much alone at those times.

And yet, singles get given a lot of advice and token support, don’t they? “Just give me a shout if you need anything.” “Reach out to us if you want help.” My experience was that people with their own families were rarely available when I was in need.

I remember, on one occasion when I was single, I became desperately sick. In the end I called an ambulance and went to the hospital. Sitting there in the emergency department, feeling the agonising pain and not having a clue what was wrong with me, I “reached out”. I called everyone at my church whose number I possessed. I begged for someone to come and sit with me in hospital.

You can probably guess what happened. Every single one of them had a family of their own – and every single one of them was busy. I do not blame them. They had children to mind and things to do. I understand. At the same time, I learned that a single person, even in an emergency, cannot necessarily count on the kindness of their church family.

Platitudes abound in the church for those who are ill: “God is on the throne,” “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger,” “God knows what you are going through.” There are times when this knowledge brings relief. There are, however, other times when one just wishes God would pop down the shops and bring home some lovely chicken soup. Just once.

So today I am shouting out to the lady who shared her story with me, and to all my single friends, my brothers and sisters, who are enduring chronic illness, pain, disability and mental health issues. To all those who feel alone: you are not alone in your struggle. Others know how you feel. Others are carrying similar crosses to yours. I cannot take your cross away or make it better, but I understand.

If you have single friends in your circles or churches, spare them a thought today. Those who are ill need your kindness, probably more than you know. They may not always need a meal cooked; perhaps just listening to their story might be all they need today. Your friendship might make all the difference.

Do you have a story of being single with chronic illness? Do you know any single people with chronic illness? How can you show them kindness today?

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