Cathy Chester | An Empowered Spirit

Four Valuable Ways To Help Someone With Chronic Illness

Our broken souls fight what’s naked to the eye. We’re warriors wrestling with invisible battles. Our adversities strengthen us after winning arduous rounds of sparring with despair and uncertainty.

We combat illness every day with as much grace and dignity as possible.

We dream of living somewhere over the rainbow, to walk in Dorothy’s shoes where black and white turns into color, and the world looks full of promise.

We long for a normal life.

chronic illness

Last week these thoughts filled my heart. Waiting to write about them here felt impossible so I created a short post on Facebook.

The response I received was overwhelming The outpouring of love and compassion made me feel less alone. Thanks to everyone who responded. You made a difference.

I wanted it to be a teachable moment. I hope it was.

Breaking yourself open to tell your truth isn’t easy. You wonder if honesty will be a sign of weakness to your readers. But I believe surrendering to adversity and sharing it with others shows great strength and courage.

As the often quoted (by me) Elizabeth Lesser eloquently wrote in her book “Broken Open”:

“Adversity is a natural part of being human. It is the height of arrogance to prescribe a moral code or health regime or spiritual practice as an amulet to keep things from falling apart. Things do fall apart. It is in their nature to do so. When we try to protect ourselves from the inevitability of change, we are not listening to the soul. We are listening to our fear of life and death, our lack of faith, our smaller ego’s will to prevail.

To listen to your soul is to stop fighting with life–to stop fighting when things fall apart; when they don’t go our way, when we get sick, when we are betrayed or mistreated or misunderstood.

To listen to the soul is to slow down, to feel deeply, to see ourselves clearly, to surrender to discomfort and uncertainty and to wait.” ~Elizabeth Lesser

But resting for weeks on end can leave you feeling lonely and isolated. You watch the world go by without the ability to join in.That can break your spirit into tiny pieces.

When that happens to me I have time to think. About aging and MS and what that will mean for me. About the future of healthcare in our country. About finances. About Medicare covering my revolving door of doctors. About whether I’ll travel again and enjoy life as I once knew it.

And sometimes I wonder if the people I care about will go the distance with me through the worst, and best, of times.

When you lose pieces of yourself to illness these thoughts cross your mind.

If you want to know how we feel walk in our shoes a little. We don’t want to be sick. We don’t want to complain. We don’t want to be different. We just are.

Here are four suggestions on making a difference in the life of a chronically ill person. Kindness and compassion are never out of fashion:

  • Reach out – A text or private message is nice but it’s not the same as a phone call or old-fashioned snail mail card. Being chronically sick can be lonely. Feeling forgotten can be devastating. If someone’s not feeling up for a phone call send a card to show you care. A friend of mine living in another state felt sad to miss the changing seasons. In the fall I gathered a bunch of beautifully colored leaves and mailed them to her with a card. It made her day.
  • Pay a visit – If someone is up to it giving the gift of time (in person, Skype or FaceTime) shows someone they matter. Schedule a convenient time and ask if you can bring anything. Be a compassionate listener. Let them know you care. A visit to someone in need can be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Offer to help – Ask if you can cook a meal or two, do their laundry, run some errands, drive them to the doctor. A helping hand can take a big weight off someone’s shoulders.
  • Be consistent – Make a point of staying in touch. Follow up. Ask how they’re doing. Stay in their life. Be a friend. Everyone is busy, particularly at holiday time. But the world would be a nicer place if today, right now, this second, you reached out to someone in need. Be that someone who makes the world a brighter place.

NOTE: This post is based on my experience of living with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis. There are four types of MS and mine is reported as the most common, least progressive type.

There are millions of people living with invisible illness, from Graves Disease, cancer, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and many others that include symptoms like debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunction, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders.

I don’t have the corner on illness. Not even close.

I don’t have all the answers. So I write what I know. I hope you let me know what you know. 

Thank you for listening.

chronic illness



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19 thoughts on “Four Valuable Ways To Help Someone With Chronic Illness

  1. Paulette Edelson

    You and your words are so beautiful. I am forwarding this latest message to my daughter in law who has many serious health issues and I know will benefit from your thoughts.

  2. Beth Ann Chiles

    I love the “be consistent” advice. That is something that a lot of people just don’t understand I would imagine. Kind of like with a death—people forget that the loss is still there months after the funeral. Thanks for a wonderful post that deserves to be shared time and time again. Great wisdom here, Cathy!
    Beth Ann Chiles recently posted…Christmas Time on Teapot TuesdayMy Profile

  3. joan stommen

    Beautifully written from your sweet soul, Cathy. As I’ve written about, my granddaughter’s seizure disorder affects her life in many of these ways. Sometimes a sigh or rolling of eyes in frustration or disappointment when she must bail at the last minute is a hurtful, powerful blow to the soul…even when loved ones understand!. The more you share about invisible health problems, the more you inform and guide the rest of us. I too am sharing this with her as she navigates into adulthood and independence. Bless you and please feel my hugs and shoulders to lean on. .

  4. Terry Palardy

    Hi Cathy,
    “I want you to feel better.” That’s a well intentioned statement, but poses a direct challenge to one who knows that better is not ahead, and certainly not just around the corner.
    “Are you having a good time?” In the midst of a family gathering with too many voices, perhaps too many unknown significant others for now, or just too much movement to allow comfort, it is hard and often impossible to verbally answer that question with any semblance of truth.
    “You are doing too much, and you ought to stay home and rest more.” or,
    “You are dong too much, and you’re doing that to avoid family times.”
    We do make choices. There are things we can do. You are a writer and spend time posting and sharing thoughts and resources with us. Sometimes family times are more exhausting both mentally and physically than just doing what we are able to do on our own, like write, or quilt, or run our own small business.
    The holidays are a time of family demands … our traditional presence is not only expected but often requested directly.
    What others can do for those with invisible symptoms is practice compassion and patience and understanding and forgiveness when we can’t live up to their requests.Chronic illness is what my mother in law would have called ‘a slippery slope.’ Aging is the same. As I enter the third stage of my sixties, now heading toward my seventies, I am beginning to realize that explanations repeated are words wasted. I don’t explain anymore. I don’t fulfill others’ expectations. Instead I do what I can to make others’ happy … the others’ who ask nothing of me … often the others’ who don’t even know who I am and never will, but who I know will be happier for my efforts, unseen. That brings me peace. I’m sure you know what will bring you peace, too. Do it. Never mind that it is not an established tradition for you … if you can do what someone unseen or unknown needs done, it is worth doing, worth your energy, worth you.

  5. Helene Cohen Bludman

    I’m so glad you wrote this, Cathy. Sometimes it is hard to know the right thing to do. Your suggestions are good ones and easily done. Wishing you well on your road to recovery, my friend. xoxo

  6. Karen Austin

    Cathy: My mom has a chronic disease (Epstein-Barr), and I keep forgetting the phrase, “How are you?” can be really complicated. What works best is for me to just listen and to refrain from giving any advice. And it helps for me to believe her experience instead of saying things like, “You don’t look sick.” or “Your illness seems to come and go. Is it psycho-somatic.” I feel bad for her. I also try not to define her by her illness but by her accomplishments, talents, personality and passions. It really stinks that she has to work around her illness. All my best to people living chronic illness. Hugs for the hard things and high fives for the victories, big and small.

  7. Judy Freedman

    Hope you are feeling better. A few of my yoga students have MS and I feel like a know more about it because of your blog and all that you share. Wish you lived closer so I could do restorative yoga with you. Sending healing vibrations your way.

  8. janet tancredi

    Well, I will once again try to submit my comment. I hope it is received! With tears running down my face, I read your post. Not out of sadness, but out of comfort. Just knowing, you are not alone with being a part of the chronic illness club. How can those fortunate enough live without such an affliction be expected to understand? Not void of compassion, just experience. Life has a way of just getting in the way of time. I look forward to reading your posts and your insights. I am an avid fan! I need to become computer savvy so I can share your words!

    1. Post author

      I wish I could, Tres, but it’s not so easy. Life has been within these walls these last few weeks where I (temporarily) live. Life is flying by outside the door. I’m am not a part of life at this moment except through my work and my boys. Joy, for the moment, escapes me. I do wish we lived closer. Your smile would help a lot. With love, Cathy

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