Search Parker Magazine. Carrie Hobbs. A healthy appearance leaves those with chronic illness searching for support and compassion. April 2006.
Good health, most of us measure it on appearance. A normal physique, a healthy color even a friendly voice and a smile, all give us the impression of a healthy, able-bodied person. But, consider waking each day to a reflection that offers an image that it seems, only you see as weary and lacking the vitality and abilities of your former self.
Sherri Connell never imagined she would have to come to terms not only with an illness that robbed her of her active lifestyle, but with the pain caused by the doubts of others who could not see her disability.
As a student and young adult she excelled in athletics, academics and the arts. Her life was filled with riding horses, exercise and performing. Her academic aspirations earned her three college degrees and later a rewarding career.
It seemed nothing could slow her down, even when, at 27, she was diagnosed with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. She was determined to remain active, even if it meant using a wheelchair. But, the wheelchair would not be the culprit that robbed her of her active lifestyle. Despite struggling to regain her ability to walk, Sherri was stricken with extreme fatigue, headaches, pain, weakness, cognitive impairments and dizziness that prevented her from working and caused her to struggle just to take a shower. Along with MS, she was diagnosed one year later with Late Chronic Lyme Disease, which had been suppressing her immune system and causing other disabling symptoms.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Sherri met Wayne Connell, and despite her disability the two became friends and later married. Wayne’s support for Sherri was a lifeline, as she had so often struggled to gain understanding from friends and family. “It seemed people thought I was exaggerating, or even making up my disability,” Sherri explains. “But you look good,” was a frequent comment that left Sherri discouraged and alone.
But, Sherri did not give up on creating understanding of her illness. She began writing a journal to express her feelings of isolation, desires to get her life back and need for others to acknowledge her disability.
It was Wayne who suggested posting her writings on the internet as an outreach to others in need of support. It soon became evident, through the many emails, that chronic pain and illness affect many families. In fact, in 2000, 125 million Americans were living with some type of chronic condition.
“Much to our surprise,” says Wayne, “we began receiving emails from people around the world telling us that we have ’put into words‘ exactly what they had been trying to tell their loved ones.” With the positive response, Wayne wanted to offer more. He compiled a few of Sherri’s pamphlets into a booklet, But You LOOK Good!, that could be given to friends and family to offer simple ways to be an encouragement and by learning “what to say”, “what not to say” and “how to help”.
The success of the website and booklet led Wayne to develop a non-profit organization, The Invisible Disabilities Advocate (IDA) in 2004. IDA provides a wealth of resources, publications and support groups related to issues surrounding Chronic Illness and Pain. Receiving an average of 10,000 visitors a month, www.invisibledisabilities.org, gives hope to many who have been suffering alone without the support of those around them.
“The rewards have been many,” says Wayne. “We have had husbands on their knees asking their wives for forgiveness for the way they treated them, mothers reaching out to their daughters after they thought they were just being lazy and those who suffer from chronic illnesses stating that they finally didn’t feel alone anymore.”
Wayne and Sherri have lived in Parker for the past six years. The small town feel, easy accessibility to shops and restaurants, beautiful sunsets and fantastic views of the front-range make Parker an ideal community for them to live, work and continue reaching out to others who share their struggle.