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How to Show Kindness to Women with Chronic Illness

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Let me tell you a quick story…

Debbie decided to do a quick grocery shopping to pick up a few things that her kids needed. It was a rough morning and her pain was screaming but she knew it wouldn’t take her long.

In the store, while she was walking down the aisle, an old lady pulled her cart up to the flour section. There were about 6 people in the aisle.

The old lady asked her, “Could you lift this bag of flour for me?” Debbie looked at the bag of flour she was pointing at and whoa, it was the biggest one they had!

She looked back at the old lady and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t. I…” The old lady cut her off, looked angrily at her and shouted for everyone nearby to hear, “Oh my! I can’t believe young people these days!”

Then all turned their eyes on her. One lady hurriedly approached them, lifted the bag of flour for the old woman and turned to Debbie, “Unbelievable! You are going to let this poor lady lift that bag herself? You should be ashamed of yourself!”

The others did not say anything but they gave her rude looks. She stood there embarrassed, shamed and frozen.

She wanted to explain her condition and defend herself but she was taken aback by everyone’s reactions. She just ended up turning her cart around and walking away.

You see, Debbie has a chronic back problem. She was just a few months out from spinal fusion surgery and was actually still wearing a back brace. Yes, she was only 39 years old and looked very strong, but there was no way she could lift that bag up!

Debbie is just one of the many women who experienced shaming because of invisible illness or disability. They are usually mistreated, misunderstood and misjudged because we cannot see their conditions.

There might be a ‘Debbie’ in your family, group of friends, church, neighborhood, workplace, school, grocery store in a random day, etc. So today, I’d like to share with you how to show care and kindness to women like Debbie in 5 different categories – the 5 Love Languages (based on Gary Chapman’s book).

Just a quick note…

…a chronic illness
“is a human health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects or a disease that comes with time. The term chronic is often applied when the course of the disease lasts for more than three months.” Some of the common chronic illnesses are diabetes, hypertension, cancer, asthma, arthritis, COPD, lupus, lyme, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, etc.

Now that you got to know Debbie (and the women like her all around you) a little bit better, check out some ideas how you can show some random acts of kindness when you get the opportunity to do so.

Show spoonies how much you care through the 5 love languages.

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1. Acts of Service

– Prep healthy home cooked frozen meals (please ask for her diet, food allergies or intolerances)
– Make a detox smoothie
– Ride to appointments
– Ask what you can pick up for her when you’re on your way to the grocery store
– When you see a stranger parked in a handicap spot, help her get in or out of the car, or carry her groceries, or open the door for her

2. Physical Touch

– Hug (gentle, please)
– Hold her hand
– Rub her back
– Gentle massage
– A cuddle

3. Words of Affirmation

– “I believe you.”
– “I’m praying for you.”
“We’re inviting you to hang out. If you need to cancel at the last minute, please don’t feel guilty. We understand that your symptoms are unpredictable.”
– For a stranger being shamed in public and ganged up on just like Debbie, you can tell her something like, “I’m sorry you experienced that.” She may not have an invisible illness but it’s better not to jump to negative conclusions especially if we don’t know the other person well.
– Share an encouraging quote or Bible verse

4. Gifts

– Soft fuzzy socks
– Coloring book and gel pens/colored pencils
– Maid service coupon/gift card
– Cooling gel eye mask
– Inspiring and encouraging audio book

5. Quality Time

– Arrange to visit her with pot luck dishes (please remember to ask for her diet)
– Have a movie evening at home
– Take time to research about her condition and have a conversation with her about what you found out 
– Tell her a funny story
– Just listen to her

I hope you already have a “Debbie” in mind right now and that the suggestions above sparked more ideas. If you’d like to share yours, please post them on the comment section below.

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19 thoughts on “How to Show Kindness to Women with Chronic Illness”

  1. Thank you! I also have had umpteen back op, inculding spinal fusion – first op aged 21! These days I have to use a wheelchair when we go out & I haven’t turned 50 yet – I have genetic condition of the collagen caled Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which my 15 year old has been diagnosed with too. Anyway, I LOVE your blog name and logo……I have included this link on my PainPals reg feature Monday Magic – Inspiring Blogs for You! Thanks for sharing on Brilliant Bloggers Club, Claire x

    • Claire, I am so sorry to hear about your struggles. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Keep shining your light! I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts. Sending you and your child hugs, love and prayers. Lastly, thank you for sharing and featuring this article on your page. 🙂

  2. I once asked a guy to lift something for me in the store. He could not and was so embarrassed. Me too. It was a huge sack of wild birdseed, and although I could lift it, I could not scoot it under the shopping cart without making the cart roll away. My intent was to hold the cart still and get someone else to lift it. I could have parked the cart against the shelving to make it more stationary, and that really is what I should have done, instead of being lazy and thinking I was giving some random guy a chance to show off his muscles.
    I embarrassed a guy who was physically incapable of lifting. I’ve pretty much given up asking random shoppers for random acts of kindness. One just never knows. Invisible is, after all, invisible.
    Hey, at least I did not shame the guy, like your story depicted! 😀

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Katharine. We need more people like you who are compassionate and understanding. It’s easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions (I’m guilty as well). I feel sorry for the guy but hey, it’s not like you embarrassed him on purpose. You responded kindly to him and that’s what matters. Blessings to you and that guy!

  3. Thank you! I have fibromyalgia and sometimes it is a struggle just to get dressed! We should support and lift each other up, and put a stop shaming others. Great ideas!

    • (((Shannon))) sending you virtual and gentle hugs! I’m so sorry to hear about your struggle. It’s tough and so are you. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to shower, too. No to shaming! We got this!

  4. Wow. I suppose in many ways it’s common sense that we shouldn’t treat others differently just due to chronic illness- but after all the titles can be pretty scary. Thank you for codifying this. It’s fantastic to have this kind of reenforcement for positive behaviour!

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, Sarah! It’s my pleasure to write this. I agree with you, it can really be scary. Blessings to your mission and work, too.

  5. Great article. It certainly makes you think more and that you shouldn’t judge everyone you see as you just don’t know what they’re going through. I myself suffer with both anxiety and depression and it really frustrates me how people openly judge me so much when they have no idea what it’s like and they expect so much from me. I bet this situation plays out a lot for so many people. If everyone stopped and decided to show kindness rather than judgment, the world would be a better place.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Ella. You raised a very good point. I suddenly remember a quote that goes something like, be kind to everyone you meet as you don’t know their battle. Thank you, Ella for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Wonderful suggestions! I’m lucky to have some great friends who do some of these things for me already with my Multiple Sclerosis.

    • Savanna, I’m sorry to hear that you struggle with MS but I’m glad you have very loving and supportive friends. They are wonderful blessings! Sending more love your way. <3

  7. This is such a good post, I’ve been in a similar situation where an elderly lady dropped some coins at the checkout, and I couldn’t bend over to pick things up off the floor. I felt so horrible, even though I said I was sorry I couldn’t do it. People have a hard time understanding if you look like there’s nothing wrong with you. Great tips ?

    • Amy, thank you for sharing your story. It’s tough to be in a situation like that. Please take care and I hope you get some relief with your back issue.

  8. Thank you for writing this. I am a Type 1 Diabetic that has Lyme which causes things like rheumatoid arthritis, depression, tiredness, the list is endless. The kindest thing to do is remember that we have a chronic disease. Often we don’t say anything about how we are feeling but bring a sugar free desert, ask how we are feeling. Invite us out for a walk. Just try to remember that while we look like we are doing well doesn’t mean we are.

    • Kristina, I’m so sorry you go through those but I want to thank you for courageously sharing your story. Also, thank you for adding to our kindness list. Very good ones! Sending love and healing vibes your way!

      PS. It was my pleasure to write this. You’re welcome and thank you as well. Send me a message anytime you need someone to talk to.


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