Elbert County News. Karen Cochran, Contributing Writer. Coping with Invisible Illness. September 2003.
When a person has a broken leg, others rush to offer assistance carrying groceries or driving the patient to and fro but when a person says she can’t go to the party, school or work because it would take too much effort to get up, dressed and leave the house, she is often met with disbelief and even disgust.
Sherri Connell has been there. Sherri still battles daily with an invisible disability that takes every ounce of energy she can muster just to get up, get dressed and try to face her day.
Sherri’s husband, Wayne, is the founder of The Invisible Disabilities Advocate to help sufferers find support and family and friends understand what the seemingly healthy looking person goes through when the inner body is wracked with intractable disease, pain and fatigue.
Sherri and Wayne moved to Parker in 2000. Sherri had always wanted to live in the country and enjoy the congeniality of a small community.
Sherri was a peppy person growing up, almost full of too much energy as she dreamed of becoming a singer, actress and even Miss America. Work was not a four-letter word to her as she helped out around the house taking on her first real job at age thirteen.
In high school she worked, went to school as well as being a cheerleader.
Sherri traces problems with her immune system including frequent bouts with pneumonia, recurrent stomach flu and strep throat to a tick bite when she was fourteen. That bite was the precursor to Late Chronic Lyme Disease that would become Sherri’s constant companion as she studied theater.
Sherri worked two jobs, continued with classes, singing dancing in musicals as well as modeling, riding her horse and lifting weights.
Sherri did not slow down until a severe case of pneumonia paralyzed her from the ribs down leading doctors to diagnose her with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.
The year was 1991, Sherri was twenty-seven. Sherri has not recovered enough to resume the strenuous ten to twelve hour days she put in getting her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources let alone resume her Master’s degree studies. Most days Sherri is lucky to take a shower.
Wayne met Sherri in 1985 when she came into the electronics store he managed to buy some video cable. He knew Sherri was the girl for him and finding out about her disability did not deter him.
“I married Sherri, not her illness.” Wayne said.
Wayne left retail management in 1999 to be able to assist Sherri more taking on a new career as a Telecommunications Engineer.
Sherri and Wayne have dealt with nosy questions, disbelieving friends and family, endless doctors’ appointments and treatments as well as giving up dreams of a children of their own by developing an organization based on Sherri’s personal journey and reaching out to other sufferers and guiding other families.
Sherri is not able participate in crafts, painting or even reading. She used to be able to write ten to fifteen page reports in a day or two now it takes her years to write a few pages.
The Invisible Disabilities Advocate helps family and friends see the chronically ill not as lazy or malingerer but rather strong and courageous.
“When people look at me, they do not see the MS they just see me.” Says Sherri.” They can’t see the frayed spinal cord, brain and nerves throughout the inside of my body.”
Sherri and Wayne want people to understand that the invisibly disabled person is using every ounce of energy to participate as fully as possible in life and to be supportive rather than diminishing their efforts.
They have put their lives on hold, reassessed and begun new lives with new abilities based on but exceeding limitations. The Connells both credit their deep faith in God with helping them not only cope but expand beyond doctors’ prognosis and dire predictions for a future.
To learn more about helping someone with invisible disabilities or to find support in a personal journey log on to Where is God Ministries at www.WhereIsGod.net
This article, which appeared in the Elbert County News has been edited and re- formatted for this site. Published with permission. Readers may print up to 3 copies of this article. For publishing or distribution permission, contact Karen Kendig.