You're Not Crazy and You're Not Alone - Sara Willoughby
Everyone had been telling me about Mindy. I mean, I live in a small town, but I was hearing about her from all over, from people who didn’t even know each other.
“You should meet Mindy,” they told me, “she has health issues like you!”
There aren’t a ton of young adults in our town, and chronic illness is something most people don’t recognize very often. Those two things in common meant surely Mindy and I would be best
She and I laughed about it when we finally made it onto a video call together this week. We swapped stories. They were right. We did have a ton in common. And it went far beyond health issues. We both thrive on deep conversations. We both have been involved volunteering in youth ministry. We have similar dreams for the future. We’re both crazy about God. Maybe illness had a bit to do with those similarities, maybe it’s just our personalities. But Mindy is awesome.
So as much as we laughed at being known as the “sick girls” it is always a gift to get to talk to someone who gets it. She didn’t have to explain to me what candida is and I got to tell her what treatment my doctor does without having to explain the terms I was using. We spoke the same language. The same medical jargon. The same language of pain. The same language of hope. Instead of blank stares, we both received educated questions and compassionate nods of true understanding.
When I first got sick, I thought I was one of the only teenagers with a chronic illness. When I first got sick, I didn’t even know what a chronic illness was! I didn’t think I knew anyone else in the same boat.
It was lonely. I felt isolated, misunderstand, and so painfully alone. As time went on, people stopped checking on me. And those who did had no frame of reference for what my family and I were going through.
Here’s the thing, though. I was so. wrong. Something like 90 million Americans suffer from one or more chronic illnesses. And I definitely wasn’t the only teenager or young adult with a chronic illness. Far from it! You just gotta know where to look.
Mindy is one of the few I’ve met who lives in the same small Arizona town as me. It makes sense, really, that we are hard to find. When health challenges prevent you from going to social events, it’s hard to swap stories with people. When illnesses are invisible and your latest symptom isn’t a socially acceptable topic of conversation, people may not even know we are sick.
So I started blogging. I started sharing my story and as I did, I found my people. I started getting comments and emails, saying “me too.” I wasn’t alone? We weren’t alone. There are no words to express the wonder and excitement and relief and sorrow of that realization.
Blogging naturally led to writing and publishing a book about faith in chronic illness, He’s Making Diamonds. I got more messages and more emails. People were out there who related. Who needed hope and encouragement from others who got it.
We started an online conference designed specifically for Christians with health challenges with the goal of encouraging them in their faith. The theme for Diamonds 2019 was Living Hope. We all needed hope. Still do. Hope that is concrete enough to survive the excruciating realities of chronic illness.
That first year we had ten speakers and it was a day and a half. Our 2021 conference had over twenty speakers and was two and a half days long. The speakers were from all over the world, and every single one of them had faced illness themselves. Those in the trenches spoke to those in the trenches, sharing hard won truth. It was — is — beautiful. We have been able to reach thousands of people.
In June, we had our fourth event, and every time, I am blown away by the “me too” messages. Blown away by looking at the numbers and considering the people they represent, people who get it. That fifteen-year-old I was who faced her deathbed feeling alone is so far from alone.
God created us to live in community. He has gifted me Mindy. He has gifted me the conference community (and you as well, if you want to join it). And right now you might feel utterly alone. But I want to assure you that you are not. I don’t say that lightly. He will not leave or forsake you. But there are also people out there who get it, no matter how unique your struggle is. You just need to find them. Human hearts are very alike.
I want to tell you what has become my life message:
You’re not alone.
Read that again. And I want to add — you’re not crazy either.
S. G. Willoughby is the author of He’s Making Diamonds: A Teen’s Thoughts on Faith Through Chronic Illness and the host of the Diamonds conference. She loves to write and have adventures. Sara is a TCK, a Lymie, and a Young Life leader. You can find her at sgwilloughby.com.