Joy and pain are not usually words you hear in the same sentence, but for Bryon and Renee Scott, the leaders of the Chronic Joy Support Group at St. Vincent de Paul in Fort Wayne, you cannot have one without the other. The purpose of the group, which meets the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, is to “provide hope, encouragement, and a safe space for those experiencing the pain, anxiety, and isolation of living with chronic illness, and their caregivers; to connect, share, and support one another.”
No stranger to chronic pain, Bryon Scott has been living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS for almost a quarter century. CRPS is a rare neurological disorder and has been named one of the top three most painful diseases by medical experts. CRPS is often called the “Suicide Disease” due to the prevalence of those living with it ending their lives from the severe physical and in turn mental suffering it causes.
After a particularly powerful visit to the Oratory of St. Mary Magdalene, he said he began to feel the Holy Spirit putting the pieces into place. While attending a charism workshop, Bryon learned his charism was helping people and Renee discovered hers was encouragement. At this time, they also discovered the need for a support group in the St. Vincent community catering to the needs of the chronically ill and disabled members of the parish and surrounding areas. After speaking with Father Daniel Scheidt, Pastor of St. Vincent, Dorothy Schuerman, head of St. Vincent Adult Ministries, and Allison Sturm, Ministry Specialist for Persons with Disabilities in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the idea began to blossom.
Bryon began by helping friends who were experiencing pain in their lives. Meanwhile, Renee was looking for resources online when she came across Chronic Joy, a faith-based Global Ministry, offering resources for those suffering from chronic physical and mental illness. “If God wasn’t involved in doing this, I mean it was beyond all coincidence. Trying to think of what to do and then boom! finding that website,” Bryon recalled. “It’s just amazing the things that fit together perfectly to facilitate this,” he said.
At a Chronic Joy meeting, a person can expect to encounter hearts and minds ready to listen to them. “People don’t want to listen to people with health problems, even some of the most well-intentioned people. It can be like, man, you’re dragging me down,” Bryon remarked. He added, “There’s no avenue for people to talk about it, and by talking about it and doing these little things, you can step outside of your pain and know someone else is going through the same thing or something similar.”
The group begins each session with a prayer, thanking God for allowing them to come together. There is ample time in each session for the members to individually share what is going on in their lives, struggles or obstacles they have faced in past weeks, and of course share the positive moments too – the blessings they have encountered. Some weeks the conversation is started through thought-provoking activities or specific questions provided by the Chronic Joy resources. Other weeks it may just be brought on by what is weighing on a member’s heart. Whatever the case may be, the St. Vincent de Paul Chronic Joy participants are ready to listen and provide much needed compassion and camaraderie, which is so important during the ups and downs of life.
“It’s not about telling someone what they need to do,” said Sturm. “By sharing stories of what oneself may be going through on their personal journey, they may give others the tools they need to identify and articulate their own feelings. It’s creating a safe place for people to gather, to know they are not alone.”
The feeling of safety is extremely important to those gathered, and the members excel in letting each other know whatever pain and obstacles they are going through, they do not need to face them alone. Within community comes strength and despite the often-heavy subject matter of one’s health, laughter and hope abound. Each session ends with a powerful prayer to the Heavenly Father, thanking Him for the promise of joy despite the trials they encounter and asking Him to help carry them through the daily struggles that accompany living with any form of chronic pain.
Chronic Joy is open to anyone facing the battle of mental or physical chronic illness and their caregivers to share and explore the intricate ways in which the Lord works through suffering. “If you haven’t had great suffering, you would never know how happy you can be,” said Bryon. Appropriately Renee likened pain to the feeling of a gloomy day, saying, “We can appreciate when the sun comes out.”
If you or someone you love is experiencing the pain and isolation of chronic physical or mental illness and are interested in attending Chronic Joy, contact Renee and Bryon Scott at [email protected] for more information.
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