Unfortunately a growing segment of our society is having to deal with the disabling effects of chronic illness. It is important that we try to understand why this is happening so that we can prevent or lessen the incidence of chronic disease. However, in the meantime we need to learn how to cope with the sometimes extreme difficulties inherent in dealing with chronic illness.
Chronic illness is very often a traumatic and devastating experience for both the patient and their caregivers. In the book A Husband, A Wife, and an Illness:Living Life Beyond Chronic Illness, the authors share with us their deeply personal experiences in dealing with disability, pain, guilt, other emotions and financial loss. Dr. William July and his wife Jamey wrote this book so that families, friends, caregivers and the patient, could better understand the many issues involved when one suffers from long term disability. The authors stress the fact that chronic illness does not just affect the patient but that it can also drastically affect the caregiver.
William July, PH.D has published several books, one of which is a national bestseller. He also appears regularly on television where he shares his perspectives on the psychology of relationships and other issues. His wife Jamey was very active in the field of health and fitness as a model, instructor, author and lecturer. She has also appeared on television and has been featured in several magazines...including SHAPE and Muscle and Fitness. Together they make a most unique team for presenting a book on coping with chronic illness. I found it very interesting and ironic that the difficult issues they have to cope with on an every day basis, directly correlate with their professions.
Jamey and William had just about anything they could ever want until Jamey became ill with Chronic Lyme disease and Morgellon's disease. Heavy doses of steroids were prescribed for her which only made the situation much worse. I'd like to include an excerpt from the back cover of their book.
"We were living the American dream. But when illness invaded our lives, it tore those dreams apart and we were thrust into a fight for our survival. In the devastation, we lost our home, our savings, our cars and even our dogs. We lost everything but each other."
William and Jamey's book very effectively shows readers how they can turn catastrophe into something positive. They share with us the practical ideas which have worked for them and how illness in the family has helped both of them to define priorities and to grow spiritually. Both William and Jamey are very honest about the emotions they experience....and what one can do to work with these emotions, which affect most chronically ill patients and their caregivers. The book has been divided into two sections. The first part of the book shares William's perspective as a caregiver. Some of the subjects he covers are the financial problems encountered, creating a "new normal"and how the caregiver needs to attend to their own needs so that they don't fall apart in the process of trying to be everything for everybody. He advises that the caregiver should set personal goals outside of the illness scenario. This helps to maintain sanity and the sense that life can still be "normal" in some ways.
Most of us who are sick with a chronic disease have experienced the ignorance and arrogance of many physicians. Of course there are intelligent compassionate doctors but it seems that most of us who have an undefinable or unaccepted chronic disease, have a very difficult time finding doctors who actually look at the facts, listen to the patient and try to discover the root of the problem. Doctors are educated mainly by the drug companies and or universities,many of which are funded by the drug companies. So naturally the trend in treatment would be to NOT find the cause of the problem and treat it but to perhaps instead keep the problem simmering so that the patient would require many symptomatic treatments. If a patient is cured, he is no longer a customer.....of the doctor or of the drug companies. This whole situation can be very frustrating for the patient and the caregiver. William includes a chapter dealing with this very difficult dilemma and offers some helpful guidelines on how to navigate through these shark infested waters of the modern day medical system.
Each chapter includes Action Plans, Questions to Consider and Journal Ideas. This book is very validating for patient and caregiver but at the same time it offers real life solutions and even spiritual inspiration. It is written with a deep sense of Love, compassion and hope.
Jamey's section of the book deals mainly with the perspective of the patient. She helps the reader find ways to survive the critical stages of illness. She talks about recognizing your mental and physical pain so that one can confront it and work through it...but yet Jamey and William both caution us not to dwell on or live in the quagmire of chronic illness. Jamey speaks about suffering and how we can lessen it's effects. Some of the ways we can do this are through forgiveness and compassion...for ourselves and for others who may not understand what we are going through. Compassion, forgiveness , attitude, etc, may not sound like very tangible solutions but they can be very powerful tools in making chronic illness more bearable and at the same time aid in our spiritual growth. It is also brought out in the book that positive emotions, such as gratitude and humor, are potent healers. Our emotions definitely effect our physical being.
Jamey very gently shares her experiences and ideas on prayer. Prayer has the potential to heal us physically, mentally and spiritually. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book.
"The truth is, no matter what affliction, trouble, or iniquity, you may be battling, God's Loving Presence is there for each of us - no matter what. All we have to do is ask and we eventually realize that Divine Love never leaves us, but sometimes our pain and despair can block out our reception. It is as though our spiritual antennas aren't receiving or are being blocked by static in the form of pain, fatigue, and so on. However, if we keep searching for that clear station that channels the voice of God's Love, the static will abate, and this is when we really feel the amazing effects of healing and hope flowing through us."
I want to thank William and Jamey for writing such a helpful book. There is definitely an urgent need for this type of compassionate and practical information.... coming from first hand experience. I am including some questions I had for William and Jamey, along with their responses.
Marjorie: I would like to ask both you Jamey....and William as to whether you feel that in some way your experiences were a gift, to enable you to acquire greater empathy and insight in order to help others? Do you feel that your journey has promoted personal growth and does it amaze you that both of you are being challenged in the very areas of your expertise?
William >>>>That's a very insightful question. Yes, I feel I have become much more empathetic by having this experience. When I'm talking to a person with a chronic illness or a couple, I can FEEL where they are instead of only hearing them. But also, I recognize that though we have an experience in common with millions of others, each person's story is unique and each person/couple is experiencing something unique. But with the common threads that run through all of our stories, that's where we find the empathy to help each other. Facing chronic illness is not time to reinvent the wheel. I want to share what I've learned in this experience by using my gifts. Being a best-selling relationship author, having a doctorate in psychology, and being accustomed to working in the media, presented me with a unique opportunity to bring this message to the millions who need it. The whole idea started when I was struggling personally to deal with the situation, yet, I couldn't find a book out there that addressed the plight of couples. So, reluctantly, at first, I set out to write the book I wanted to read but couldn't find.
Jamey >>>>> I do not believe in "life accidents" and feel certain that all we go through gives us opportunities to either learn, grow and become better/stronger or, to weaken and allow circumstances to get the best of us. I've always been a compassionate person.... someone who gravitates toward caring, giving, mentoring, etc and these tendencies have been very visible in my personal and professional lives. But the extreme challenges and losses I've (we've) experienced from the illness and bad medicine, etc., have just made me more aware and more inspired to encourage others in similar situations.
When I look back at it all, I think that there is an obvious irony of sorts in the fact that I was a professional in an arena where health, physical fitness and strength, and overall wellness were the products or results of my work. Now, through the limitations that illness and the effects of terrible side effects from dangerous medicine have created, I've found myself on the flip side of things. But this is also very likely to be part of the Divine Plan as it makes our story/experience that much more intriguing.
Marjorie: Fatiguing chronic illnesses often strike the Type A personality. Many patients have told me that they used to be very active and were able to handle everything at once. Jamey....do you feel that over stressing the body with very heavy exercise or being in a constant state of "rush" can lower the body's immunity to disease? You mention in the book that your illness may be teaching you to be a Human Being instead of a Human "Doing". In my case Lyme disease has definitely changed my perspective on things, causing me to slow down and pace myself , which allows me to savor life more fully. Do you have any comments concerning this?
Jamey >>>> I have no doubt that stress suppresses the immune system and makes the body more vulnerable for illness (and so many studies are now verifying this). I think that in today's society with so many pressures on everyone to meet high standards (in our finances, careers, physical appearances, etc.), that everyone is vulnerable. Because of my knowledge professionally, in fields of fitness and nutrition, I was always blessed to know to approach exercise in balance so that it enhanced my health,as opposed to being harmful. I've always tried to impress that upon clients and people attending my workshops/lectures. So for me, exercise has been a life-saver. William has often said, if I were not in such good shape prior to contracting this disease that I'd never have survived these last five years and I agree. There were certainly times in the midst of owning and operating a personal training center and raising a daughter, who also was busy in school and dance, that rushing and busyness left its effect on me.
As my health worsened, by necessity I was forced to give up much of my time at work as well as personal family activities.
When illness gets us down and drains our energy, we have to find a place of peace in the "not doing" and in that, is a great opening for spiritual healing and emotional strength. In these moments I've grown tremendously in these areas (but I also believe that we can grow in these areas without the extreme challenges of illness!). In other words you don't have to get sick to get better!
Marjorie: Do either of you have any thoughts as to why so many in the world are experiencing such an increase in disease? Could our struggles be part of a spiritual awakening process?
William >>>>> It is my hope we are experiencing an awakening as a world. Things such as the oil crises, wars, famine, and new diseases, can threaten to wipe out humanity or they can serve as a signal for us to make changes in all aspects of our existence. If I were only looking at it from an existential point of view, I'd say we were doomed. But, my spiritual perspective tells me we are in a renaissance of humanity. The question is, how long will it take us to make the changes we need and what price will we have to pay to come to that realization?
Jamey >>>> I see from a writer, researcher and long time wellness professional, that years (decades) of people generally abusing/neglecting their bodies and their environment has begun to take it's toll. When I was researching for my first book (about silicone implants) I had the opportunity to interview hundreds of doctors and researchers as well as patients. Many of the studies I reviewed indicated that immune related illnesses had sky rocketed over the past 50 to 60 years. Much of this was attributed to poor health habits (diet, lack of exercise) and stress but a significant portion also was connected to the toxicity in our foods, water, air, etc. When you think of it, the entire 20th century was devoted to the "external" material/physical growth/gain through technology, etc. and the quest was not made in consciences, or should I say, conscious matter, thereby leaving toxic leftovers along the way. In comparison, very little attention was devoted to our "inner" selves or spiritual awareness and growth. So we are now paying the price and I think our saving Grace or solution is to turn our attention to the internal in order to find a balance and see things from a spiritual perspective not just a physical one. And, to begin to revere the resources in this world that God has blessed us with.
Marjorie: Are there any thoughts you would like to add that you didn't include in the book or are there any aspects you would like to reemphasize?
William >>>> I would like to again point out to both couples and individuals that it's important to have a life beyond the illness. The illness will attempt to trap you into not only the physical cycle, but also the psychological jail it can become. Every day, try to do at least one small thing that is joyful and for pleasure. It can be as simple as sitting outside and watching the clouds roll by. I spent many a night doing that when I was frustrated. Sometimes it's watching a ball game on television. Or, I even play video games. One has to have moments of joy and hope in order to cope.
Jamey >>>>> One thing that we didn't say overtly or specifically, is that life will throw us curve balls and sometimes they slam right into us. It's in those moments or experiences that we are left with two choices; get bitter and give up trying or, get better and do whatever helps each day, to strive toward recovery and embark on a healing path. The other thing is, that when a family/couple are bombarded with illness, it is vital to keep in mind that we are our best advocate (we cannot rely solely on physicians or others for our recovery) and may typically realize that we must maintain a vigilant quest for healing solutions. And, never ever give up because a medical practitioner tells you that he/she cannot help you or because they don't have an answer. I believe with all of my being that Our Loving Creator provides the means for our healing, but it may be a long road and many bumps along the way before we find the healing that we are seeking.
Marjorie: Although Jamey's chronic illnesses are diagnosed as Lyme disease and Morgellon's, this fact is not mentioned in the book. I thought this was a wise move by the authors because their book is geared towards anyone with chronic illness...not just those of a specific diagnosis. Anyone dealing with long-term health problems will find this book to be both helpful and comforting. I highly recommend this book to patients and caregivers. I also would suggest that this book be shared with family and friends, to help them better understand how to interact with their loved ones who are struggling with chronic infirmities.
The above review and interview was contributed by: Marjorie Tietjen:Marjorie is a freelance investigative journalist with a B.S. in nutrition. She writes on various topics but has a special interest in public health, education and awareness. Her writings can be found online and in several print publications. To read more of Marjorie's articles and reviews CLICK HERE
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