Saturday, September 13, 2014

Do You Have Just One Question?

The theme for Invisible Illness Week this year is “Just One.” On Monday I asked if you had “just one” question about invisible illness, chronic illness, or dysautonomia. I received two questions, and I will answer them below. If you have another question, please feel free to ask your question in the comment box, and we can chat there! I will do my best to answer you soon.

Q. I think my biggest questions revolve around what friends can do! What is helpful vs. intrusive, what could be considered rude or into that territory...? I know it varies person to person, but I would hate to offend or otherwise seem rude suggesting something that a friend could help with (cleaning/tidying, babysitting, etc.). What are the most helpful things to you?? :~)

A. You are so right that it varies from person to person. There are different practical and physical needs. There are also different levels of comfort in discussing illness and/or accepting help with some of the more personal needs.

Some people are very open about everything regarding their chronic illness. Others don’t like to talk about their illness at all. I would guess that most people fall somewhere in the middle. There are probably many things that they are willing to talk about, but some things they want to keep private. I think a good rule of thumb is: “If it happens behind closed doors in the bathroom or the bedroom, it is best not to ask about it or offer to help with it.” However, if you are very close friends, then it may be okay to discuss some of the more personal aspects of illness or offer personal help.

In my opinion, and based on what I have heard from numerous women with chronic illness, offering practical help is very much appreciated. If you have a friend with chronic illness, there is likely something you can do to help your friend in a practical way. Here are some things that might be helpful:
  • Taking her shopping
  • Cleaning her house
  • Picking a few groceries up at the store
  • Bringing over a meal
  • Bringing over meals for the freezer
  • Taking care of children
  • Picking up laundry and bringing it back clean and folded the next day

It usually isn’t helpful to tell a friend with chronic illness, “Let me know if you need anything.” It is hard for us to know how to respond if we don’t know exactly what someone is willing and able to do. Many of us have had the experience of getting up the courage to ask for help, and then a friend says “no” or thinks that we are asking too much of them.

If you would like to help a friend with chronic illness, go ahead and let her know! Tell her that you care about her and want to be her friend through the hard times. Let her know that you would like to help her in practical ways. Then let her know what you would like to do, and ask if that would be helpful for her.

You could say something like this: “I am so grateful for your friendship. I want to continue to spend time with you and be your friend. I know that you must face a lot of challenges with chronic illness, and I would like to help you. Would it be helpful if I did ______?” And then see what she says! You could also list out several things that you would be able to do, ask her which one or two would be the most helpful for her, and then do those for her.

I am planning on writing a series on chronic illness and friendship this fall, and I will be sharing more practical tips for reaching out to a friend with chronic illness. If you don’t want to miss it, you are welcome to subscribe to Cranberry Tea Time and receive an email whenever a new post is up.

Rachel and Dorina

With my friend, Dorina

Q. What makes you feel seen or validated the most in a good way?

A. I feel seen when people communicate with me through email, facebook, a blog post comment, a text message, or through the mail. Being homebound is lonely and isolating, and when someone reaches out to me it is very much appreciated. That is why the encouragement that came in the mail this spring was so appreciated. Friends far away reached out to me to let me know that they saw me and my pain. They shared words of encouragement. They shared about how I had encouraged them through my example or through the words on my blog. Some of them sent thoughtful and practical gifts that would be helpful to me or that would bring cheer.

I feel validated when someone asks about my health and how I am feeling without trying to fix me or give treatment advice. Instead they offer words of kindness and compassion. I feel seen and validated when someone notices something that I am struggling with or that I might need and then asks if she can help.

I feel seen and validated when someone reaches out in friendship, appreciates me for who I am, and spends time with me. When someone offers friendship, that is the best gift of all. There is nothing better than someone seeing me and wanting to be my friend even when there is very little I can “do” with them.

Thank you, ladies, for your questions! If anyone else has a question, you are welcome to leave it in the comment box and we can chat!

Read more "Just One" blog posts on the Invisible Illness Week website.


  1. Hi Rachel, Just want to let you know I continue to read your blog and continue to pray for you. (This is Linda from Awana Headquarters.) You have a sweet testimony that touches many people.

  2. Thank you, Linda, for reading, for your words of encouragement, and for your prayers. It is very much appreciated.

  3. Thank you for the hugs and the prayers. Big hugs back to you!

  4. Thank you, Karrilee! I appreciate your words and your prayers.

  5. Thank you, Laura. I'm sorry that you are sick too, but I am glad to have a friend who understands. Hugs to you!

  6. Just wanted to let you know, I have enjoyed the series this week. These were some really great questions, thank you for all of the effort that you put into this week for those of us with invisible illnesses and for those without. Thank you so much..,.

  7. Thank you, Laura! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm thankful that I was able to blog so much for Invisible Illness Week.

  8. I am amazed you could write all that in 5 minutes. It took me longer than that to read it! I cannot imagine what you go through to just make it out the door. Huge sacrifice.

  9. This post actually took me a little longer than 5 minutes. I had a hard time thinking clearly, so I went over the time limit. It's hard to get out the door, but it is so nice to get out of the house sometimes!


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