Three women were instrumental in starting a monthly support group for individuals who suffer from invisible chronic illnesses.
Karen Yarnell has suffered for 13 years from various autoimmune disorders including Hashimoto’s disease, celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. She reached out to Marcy Sobotka who has struggled with Hashimoto’s for three years and Jodie Leiss who also has Hashimoto’s.
They wanted to create a safe place for others to share and encourage one another as they learn to live with various illnesses.
“It came out of my journey. It can be difficult to understand. It’s confusing and very lonely to have an invisible illness,” Yarnell said. “The fact that you don’t look sick brings about unique challenges. You are often expected to do things everyone else can and you can feel you get labeled as ‘lazy’ or ‘unengaged’ because you can’t do what everyone else does.”
She stated a lot of people don’t understand what you are going through because to them you look fine. Everyone in the group understands what each of them are going through and what they face. They understand there are different levels of “tired” and they understand the disbelief friends and family have toward those who are sick.
“The thought of simple tasks can be overwhelming. You have to adjust and figure out what you can do,” Yarnell said.
Many invisible illnesses are not curable. Those who have them can change their lifestyle to manage the symptoms. Often they struggle with depression, anxiety, guilt and shame.
“We live in a performance-based society, and when you can’t perform to society’s standards, it causes shame and guilt,” Yarnell said “We want to focus on living life to the fullest with what we have been given. We don’t want to be victims, but be victorious and encourage each other and thrive.”
Yarnell explained how overwhelming it can be to receive a diagnosis that requires a total life change. Oftentimes, people are required to change their diet, routines, work schedules and often they feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start.
“I wanted to help others and share what I have learned so they don’t have to go through it alone,” Yarnell said.
In the group, people are free to share experiences, what has helped them or not helped, tips, recipes, trials, struggles and anything on their hearts.
Yarnell stated when people first find out, they often go through the five stages of grief, as they mourn the life they used to have or the unmet expectations of the future.
“What has helped me the most is my faith, finding my identity in Jesus. I don’t have to perform or reach a standard. I belong to him, I am God’s child and my performance can’t change that fact. That is huge in my life,” Yarnell said.
The group meets on the first Monday of each month at 7:30 pm at Laura Street Baptist Church. The meetings are open to the public.
“This group is community. Even though we don’t all have the same illness, we understand the effect chronic illness has on our life,” Yarnell said.