“THE glory of the young is their strength,” says Proverbs 20:29. (The Jerusalem Bible) If you’re sick or disabled, you might feel as if that scripture could never apply to you. But it can! The fact is, many youths with disabilities and chronic illnesses have overcome the most daunting of obstacles. Awake! interviewed four such youths.
Hiroki, in Japan, has suffered with cerebral palsy from birth. “My neck muscles aren’t able to hold my head up straight, and my hands do just the opposite of what I want them to,” he says. “I’m completely dependent on others for help.”
Natalie and her brother, James, in South Africa, were born with a rare form of dwarfism. Natalie also has scoliosis, a deformity of the spine. “I have undergone four spinal surgeries,” she says, “and because of the curvature of my spine, I have weak lungs.”
Timothy, in Britain, was diagnosed at the age of 17 with chronic fatigue syndrome. “In less than two months,” he says, “I went from being healthy and active to being so weak that my legs would not support me.”
Danielle, in Australia, was diagnosed with diabetes at 19 years of age. “Since diabetes isn’t visible,” she says, “some people don’t realize how serious it is. The fact is, diabetes could kill me.”
If you suffer from some form of illness or disability, no doubt you’ll find the comments of Hiroki, Natalie, Timothy, and Danielle to be encouraging. If you enjoy good health, their comments may help you to be more understanding of those who struggle with disability or illness.
Awake!: What is most challenging about your condition?
Natalie: For me, it’s dealing with how people react when they see me. I never feel at ease. I feel as if I’m constantly being looked at.
Danielle: With diabetes, the main challenge is knowing what to eat, how much to eat, and which foods I need to limit. An imbalance in my diet could lead to hypoglycemia, which could put me in a coma.
Hiroki: I have a special wheelchair that’s adapted to my physique, and I spend about 15 hours a day in one position. Also, I don’t sleep well. The slightest noise wakes me up.
Timothy: At first, my biggest challenge was just accepting the fact that I was sick. I was embarrassed by my condition.
Awake!: What other difficulties do you face?
Danielle: Diabetes causes me to be very tired. I need more sleep than others my age do. Also, diabetes is a chronic illness for which there is no cure.
Natalie: Obviously, the height issue comes into play for me. Doing ordinary things—like reaching for items on the shelf at a store—is a challenge. When I shop alone, it takes a lot of effort.
Timothy: I’ve had to cope with continuous pain, along with bouts of depression. Before I got sick, I was very active. I had a job and a driver’s license. I’d play sports, such as football and squash. Now I’m confined to a wheelchair.
Hiroki: I have a speech disability. This discourages me and holds me back from starting conversations. Sometimes, involuntary hand movements cause me to hit someone accidentally. When this happens, I can’t even say “I’m sorry,” on account of my speech problem.
Awake!: What has helped you to cope with your situation?
Danielle: I try to focus on the good things in my life. I have a wonderful family, I have loving friends in the congregation and, most of all, I have Jehovah God as my support. I also try to keep up-to-date with information on diabetes management. I take responsibility for my health and do my best to look after myself.
Natalie: Prayer is a source of strength. I try to deal with my problems one at a time. Keeping busy helps me not to dwell on negative thoughts. And I have two wonderful parents in whom I can confide.
Timothy: I do something spiritual each day, even if it’s just for a short time. For example, I start each day with a consideration of the daily text. Personal Bible study and prayer are very important to me, especially when I’m at an emotional low.
Hiroki: I try not to worry about things that I can’t do anything about. That’s a waste of time. On the other hand, I do all I can to build myself up spiritually, and I don’t use my condition as an excuse not to study the Bible. When I can’t sleep, I view it as an opportunity to pray.—See Romans 12:12.
Awake!: How have others encouraged you?
Hiroki: The elders always commend me for the little that I can do. The brothers and sisters in the congregation also take me with them on their return visits and Bible studies.—See Romans 12:10.
Danielle: Probably the thing that touches me most is when the brothers and sisters in the congregation sincerely commend me. That makes me feel appreciated, and it encourages me to continue.
Timothy: There’s an elderly sister who always makes a special effort to talk to me at the meetings. Elders and their wives have also given me encouragement and practical advice. One elder, who is 84 years old, has helped me to set reachable goals. A ministerial servant invited me to work with him in the ministry, and he arranged for us to work in an area that was flat and therefore accessible to my wheelchair.—See Psalm 55:22.
Natalie: As soon as I walk into the Kingdom Hall, my spiritual brothers and sisters greet me with warm smiles. The older ones always have an encouraging thought to share, despite their own hardships.—See 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17.
Awake!: What helps you to keep a positive attitude?
Hiroki: As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I associate with an organization of people who have a bright hope. Realizing what I’m part of helps me to be positive.—See 2 Chronicles 15:7.
Danielle: I think about the privilege I have of understanding God’s purpose. There are people who are in good health, yet they aren’t as satisfied with their life as I am with mine.—See Proverbs 15:15.
Natalie: I find it important to surround myself with people who are positive. It’s also encouraging to read experiences of others who are serving Jehovah despite trials. And when I go to the Kingdom Hall, I always know I’ll be strengthened and reminded of what a privilege it is to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—See Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Timothy: According to 1 Corinthians 10:13, Jehovah won’t let us go through more than we can bear. I reason that if my Creator is confident that I can cope with this trial, who am I to argue?
Hiroki and Timothy are both confined to wheelchairs. If you are in a similar situation, how can their comments help you to maintain a positive attitude?
Danielle notes that “since diabetes isn’t visible, some people don’t realize how serious it is.” Do you too suffer from an “invisible” illness? If so, what lessons can you learn from Danielle’s expressions?
Natalie says that one of the biggest challenges she faces is dealing with how people react when they see her. How would you put someone like Natalie at ease? If you have an illness or a disability that makes you feel the way Natalie does, how can you imitate her positive attitude?
List below the names of people you know of who suffer from a disability or a chronic illness.
What can you do to be supportive of each one of them?