17 Ways to Help a Friend With Chronic Illness Who's Having a Hard Day

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One of the tough parts of being chronically ill is your friends often don’t know how to help you. They may think you’d like advice or an impressive gift, when perhaps a listening ear and offer to run an errand would brighten your day.

We asked our community of people living with chronic illnesses what they would want a friend to do for them if they’re having a hard day. The best thing you can do? Ask and listen. Every person is different and has a preference for what helps. But maybe one of these will spark an idea:

Here’s what they said:

1. “Send me a funny meme or text message!” — Courtney Soularie

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2. “Let me spoil you. On days that I don’t feel well, I like to make others feel happy and appreciated.” — Alison Taylor

3. “Listen to me complain and not offer essential oils.” — Teri Weissinger

4. “Walk my dog.” — Pati CloudDancer

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5. “Let me rant about my symptoms. I don’t do it often, and I rarely tell people about what I’m coping with in detail, but when you let me talk about my issues on a biological level I feel like I’m educating you while helping myself to get through a particularly bad flare. Just your listening ear can make all the difference in the world.” — Hayley Rose

6. “Being left out and forgotten about is the deepest wound of all. I really appreciate it when I get the chance or choice to be included.” — Teresa Councell

7. “Offer to do my hot water bottle and make me a cup of tea.” — Nicky Treagus

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8. “Drop off dinner. By the time I get home from work, after a long day of Mommy’s taxi service, picking up medications at the pharmacy and whatever other errands I have to do, the last thing I have energy for is cooking dinner. But it has to be done, so I can’t get out of it. So if someone dropped it off, it would be so incredibly appreciated! I’d be able to sit down and rest my achy body. I’d have a little energy left to play with my boy instead of wasting that energy on cooking dinner and having to tell him, ‘Sorry buddy, Mommy needs to rest because she doesn’t feel good.’” — Brianna Wyckoff

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9. “Most of the time I don’t want a solution presented. I just want someone to listen and say, ‘I get it, it sucks.’” — Katie Burkes

10. “Take my kids for a couple hours so I can rest and they aren’t bored. I think my bad days are harder on the kids than they are on me. My 10- and 6-year-old shouldn’t have to help me off the toilet or wait on me, so take them for the afternoon and let them be kids.” — Melissa Warburton

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11. “Having a friend ask if there’s anything they can do and reminding me they’re here for me always cheers me up a bit. Bonus points for turning up with a yummy pastry and a good DVD!” — Shannon Dawe

12. “Just being loyal makes a huge difference. Chronic illness is a hard thing, but knowing your friends won’t walk out on you despite everything is a lifesaver.” — Alexandra Maldonado

13. “Hugs! I am single and without a significant other, so the number of hugs I get is not enough! I may be 41 but I still want hugs and to be told it will be OK or that I matter and someone cares for me.” — Sarah Jane Johns

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14. “Tell me you are on your way over with a snack because my house is on your way while you are out doing errands anyway. Then, once you come over, stay for just a bit to make tea and chat, then ask if you can add any of my errands to your list. Hug me and dash out the door. It will feel like Christmas all over again!” — Elizabeth Kreeft Turcic

15. “Just drop me an email out of the blue or post a note on Facebook saying something positive about me. When I feel bad, I feel bad emotionally too and my whole self feels ugly and worthless. Hearing positive things about myself from others when I’m down helps to lift my spirits. Write it to me, though, don’t call me. I don’t feel well enough to talk.” — Kelley Lum Oshiro

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16. “Clean or do laundry. Sometimes I have to rest a long time after I do.” — Angie Marulo

17. “My husband dumps me in the car and helps me to the beach to look at the sea. Really clears my mind! Sometimes he even beings tea in a thermos.” — Sarah Murray

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If you have a chronic illness, how can a friend be helpful when you’re having a tough day? Let us know in the comments below.

 17 Ways to Help a Friend With Chronic Illness Who's Having a Hard Day

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21 Little Things Partners Have Done for Their Loved Ones With Chronic Illness

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Sometimes all it takes is a simple gesture from someone you love to help you feel a little bit better.

We asked people who live with chronic illnesses to share one (seemingly) small thing their partner has done for them that touched their hearts.

This is what they had to say:

1. “[My partner] reminds me daily I am wanted and needed and not just a burden.” — Ally Small

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2. “I often feel bad that I can’t do ‘normal couple things’ with him like walking or standing much, going out when our friends do or even holding hands properly, so we often struggle to find ‘things’ to do other than just hanging around (which is lovely in its own right). One day he suggested we could go to the local nature preserve and he could wheel me around. He didn’t suggest we go for a walk (which would either make me feel bad because I would have to tell him I can’t walk that much or we would both know that ‘walking’ really meant ‘rolling’), but actually used the proper wording. He didn’t know how much that simple syntax meant to me until a few weeks later. It was in that moment I realized that he just ‘got it’ and understood me more than either of us thought. It was the perfect example of automatic acceptance.” — Katie Taaffe

3. “My husband is a research scientist. We were together 11 years before I got my diagnosis. When we finally had a name for what plagues me (severe rheumatoid arthritis) he read all of the medical literature available and [now] attends all of my medical visits including exams, but doesn’t say a word unless I ask him for his opinion. I once joked he was more of an expert about my illness than I was and he dropped what he was doing, wrapped me in a hug and said, ‘You’re my hero. I’m just your biggest fan.’” — Joy Hanford

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4. “My boyfriend came home from the marines when I was admitted for fistulas, and he slept on the floor the whole week so he could be with me in the hospital.” — Grace Shockey

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5. “My boyfriend has been my partner for going on seven years and caretaker for four years. He gets my medication for me every night. He brings juice and keeps track of all of my different pills for different nights.” — Katelyn Burd

6. “My partner does little things every day. He helps me keep my dignity by not [making me] have to ask for help when I need it most but am too stubborn to ask.” — Emma-Jayne Tucker

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7. “I have ulcerative colitis so spend a lot of time in the bathroom. My husband wanted to give me something I could put all around the house to look at and feel better and know he’s there for me when I’m not feeling well. He bought a dozen little jars with a piece of chalkboard on the front. He wrote our initials on the chalk and put a folded up copy of the lyrics to our wedding song inside each bottle. There is now a bottle in ever bathroom, the kitchen and all the bedrooms. It makes me smile every time.” — Heather Hecht

8. “My husband comes to every appointment with me to get a better understanding of how my illness really affects me. When he knows I’m nervous, he says something to make me laugh, and when he can tell I’m scared, he reaches out to hold my hand. His little gestures touch my heart every time.” — Rebecca Lalk

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9. “I live with multiple sclerosis, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My [husband] goes to work long before I wake. Before he leaves he often texts me links to funny or cute animal videos on YouTube to cheer me up in case I am wakened by a nightmare or an anxiety episode. It feels like his proactive strategy for keeping me laughing when I often want to cry.” — Shannon Gardner

10. “He calls me every day on his lunch break. If he knows I am having a rough day (or he just senses it) he will either text or call me at least every hour.” — Shelly Jones

11. “I suffer from chronic migraines, and at times I live in my dark, cold bedroom for days at a time. My husband of 19 years has done numerous little things that have touched my heart during my attacks, however, the one I love the most is when he climbs in bed and holds me. He doesn’t ask me how I am feeling because he already knows, he doesn’t try to fix my pain because unfortunately he cannot… he is simply there, loving me unconditionally.” — Robyn Eastwood

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12. “We’d been walking for a while, and he realized by the end of the walk I was starting to lean on him. I try my best not to most of the time, but I just didn’t realize it that night. When he felt me putting my weight on him, he asked if I was OK. I brushed it off, but he could tell I was really hurting. He picked me up. I vigorously protested because I was so embarrassed. I never wanted him to see my weakness. Not only did he accept me, but he didn’t look at me any differently. Not even for a second. He carried on the conversation we were having and carried me all the way home.” — Destin Shyann

13. “He told me, while I was mid-migraine, that he was not leaving. He said, ‘I need to make sure you are going to be OK.’” — Kristin Marie Kaskeski

14. “When I was hospitalized for the first time my husband packed me a picnic tea party complete with a teapot, my best tea cups and even a pretty tablecloth. We also wrote letters to each other every day and exchanged them at night during visiting hours. He’s also done really hard things for me too. Like when I would call him on the first night of my hospitalizations begging for him to take me home, weeping, and he would say he loves me but no, it breaks his heart, but I have to do this. Through all of this he’s my hero.” — Claire Nieuwoudt

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15. “I recently had one very good day where I had managed to shower, dry my hair, get dressed and put on makeup. I joked, ‘I’m pretending to be a normal person today.’ He wrapped his arms around me, kissed me on the forehead and said, ‘Just be a normal you.’ It told me he accepted me for who I am, illness and all.” — Jen Keating

16. “He lets me ask for help. He knows it makes me feel bad if he swoops in every time I struggle to open something or pick something up. He’s there when I need him, but he lets me make that call and that means so much.” — Emily Matejic Souders

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17. “He gave up school and a fantastic job to be my 24/7 caregiver — riding out each seizure with me, carrying me to the bathroom, bathing me, taking me to each appointment, etc. He’s given up everything to fight for me.” — Melody Hitzeroth

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18. “[My partner] washes my hair and ties my shoes when I don’t have the energy. I have multiple sclerosis (MS) and am seven months pregnant. Small things add up.” — Jordann Chitty

19. “He will just hold me. Any time I am symptomatic he will just hold me and it’s enough to help improve my mood and make everything seem tolerable and manageable. I don’t know if I would be doing as well as I am without him.” — Hallie Ervin

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20. “[My partner will] ignore it, but not me. I’ll be doubled over, and she’ll ask if I’m good, and if I say, ‘Yes just dealing,’ she’ll leave it at that. She won’t hover or get in my way. She just keeps on about her business, still talking and interacting as much as she sees I can stand.” — Loretta Woods

21. “He believed me and helped fight for answers.” — Jennifer Peterson

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When the Person Being Unkind About Your Chronic Illness Is You

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“Be your own best friend. Never ever, put yourself down.” – Paulo Coelho

What would I say to a good friend if our roles were reversed? What if I were healthy, and she was frequently unwell? I know for certain I wouldn’t mutter half the things I say to myself, because it just wouldn’t make any sense.

Would I tell anyone at all to push their body to beyond its breaking point, because work was more important than health? Would I berate them for having to cancel dinner plans yet again? Would I blame them for something they did or didn’t do, due to an illness they didn’t ask for?

The above quote by Paulo Coelho provokes me to ask myself questions I already know the right answers to — responses that are all kinder, more tolerant and more sensible than what I actually do to myself.

I believe it bothered me more than the people involved, or they were aware of my limitations to begin with. Yet I can’t help but feel apologetic whenever something like this happens:

  • Missing important life events of good friends or family — all these milestones of memory marked by dark holes instead of collective color.
  • Having to trouble colleagues with my share of work — let’s face it, nobody likes working overtime, and I hate being the cause of it.
  • Slowing companions down while traveling — either due to my limited
    energy capacity I have to ration amongst activities or just moving along at a slower pace.

The biggest “crime” I have committed in any of these circumstances probably has nothing to do with what I am actually feeling sorry for, but rather, the fact that I have allowed external factors to define how I think or feel about myself.

I admire how some (or most?) people know what they’re worth; they are unafraid to apply the rules of fairness not just toward others, but also toward themselves, which is often the more difficult task.

Perhaps it is some kind of inverse ego or inferiority complex, but whatever the reason, it is time to give it up and start treating ourselves well today — it’s the right thing to do.

Follow this journey on A Chronic Voice.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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To the People Who Think I'm 'Off' Work When Dealing With Chronic Illness

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“Well, since you’re off now…”

That’s the beginning of a statement usually directed at me by well-meaning individuals who don’t seem to understand what it’s like to live day in and day out with multiple invisible chronic illnesses. It’s a common assumption that since I’m no longer working I have unlimited time on my hands to help with whatever comes up. It’s as if to some people I’m on a permanent vacation. I’m here to assure you, this is no vacation.

To clear things up, I’m not just “off.” I’ve been living with chronic illness since I was 7 years old. That makes nearly 32 years of doctor visits, multiple diagnoses, hospital stays, surgeries, lab draws, etc. For the most part, I’ve been able to live a “normal” life. That means in spite of the unrelenting pain, at times unexplainable symptoms and the side effects to medications and such, I’ve been able to “blend in.” As long as I was smiling, had my makeup on, hair styled and I was going to school or work, no one really knew or questioned how sick I was. That all changed in July 2011. It’s like someone flipped a switch. Things went from “OK, I can navigate what life has given me” to “How in the world am I going to survive this?”

My life changed almost overnight. I spent the better part of eight months searching for yet another diagnosis. Finally, at the end of February 2012, I received one, but little did I know the uphill battle had only just begun. I pushed myself to continue to work because, after all, I had a diagnosis and a treatment plan. It wasn’t a cure, mind you, but my expectations were high as they always were. Though it seemed the more I pushed myself, the more my body was failing me, treatment or not. That was a hard reality to accept. This reality became more glaring when I had to resign from my longtime job in August 2014. It seemed everything I feared over the years was coming true, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

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Since I’ve been “off,” I’ve spent time adjusting to and rejecting new medications. I do have good days here or there, meaning my pain level is a four or five and I probably didn’t take any pain medication that day. And yes, you will likely see me out on those days, if I can make it happen. I live for my good days. However, for every good day, there are an equal number (if not more) bad days that you don’t see. You don’t see me unable to move from my bed to the restroom without assistance. You don’t see my accessible devices, like the shower chair I use because I can’t stand for longer than a few minutes at a time some days. You don’t see me wince in pain because every joint hurts and my pain medication hasn’t really been effective that day. You don’t see the three days I spend in bed unable to move from a migraine, unable to find relief. You don’t see me throwing up from the weekly low-dose chemotherapy injections.

I understand it’s more comfortable to relate to the “good days” me only, but I can tell you that overlooking my struggles or dismissing the “bad days” me is a loss for both of us. I’ve learned so much about life and chronic illness, and I would love to share that with you. I would love to widen your perspective so your impact can be a positive one. So that maybe you don’t unintentionally say something hurtful to a chronically ill person in future. That dialogue would be great. I hope to have that with you one day.

As for me, I’m adjusting. I think I’ll always be adjusting to this new life. I live one day at a time, not planning too far into the future but being grateful for the present. I definitely have down days, but I also have an amazing support team to remind me I can indeed survive whatever this illness or the world throws my way.

Follow this journey on Life on the Relapse.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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25 Secrets of People With Chronic Illnesses

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Nearly 133 million Americans have some sort of chronic illness, and that number is expected to reach 157 million by 2020, according to data on the Invisible Illness Week website.

*Sign up for our Chronic Illness Newsletter*

From exhaustion to migraines to fatigue, many chronic illness symptoms aren’t visible to the naked eye, which makes them even more difficult to diagnose — and understand.

With a growing number of people affected by chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, arthritis, Lyme disease, Crohn’s disease and diabetes and more, it’s important to both raise awareness and let others know how to respond to the needs of individuals living with these conditions.

So we asked readers in our Facebook community what truths about chronic illness they wish others understood. Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Some days you can function, some you can’t.” —Amber Wandmaker

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2. “I’m not lazy. I’m in pain, exhausted and quite possibly depressed because I feel useless and cannot make others understand what I go through on a daily basis.” —Jodie Farber Brubacher

3. “It’s not in my head.” —Christine Olson Smith

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4. “When I’m pushing through… I’m really pushing myself too hard.” —Debra Declue

5. “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real.” —Rhonda Miller-Solomon

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6. “Accepting the fact that I will never get better is what has allowed me to live my life and continue to work towards my goals without waiting to ‘get better.’” —Joan Elizabeth

7. “A good day for people with chronic pain… is often just ‘less of a bad day.’” —Ann Webb Bradford

8. “Being immune compromised/suppressed isn’t a game; it’s dangerous. When I say I can’t get sick, I’m not being paranoid; I’m being careful. Life’s no good when you’re dead!” —Arianna Nyswonger

9. “I’ve become an expert on hiding my pain from everyone.” —Beth Cox Harrell

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10. “Chronic illness often comes in multiple versions; treating one can mean making another one worse.” —Zoann Murphy

11. “I can’t remember what ‘well’ feels like.” —Sandra Williams

12. “Good can change to bad in a matter of minutes. There are good days and bad days, but there are also good hours and bad hours, good minutes and bad minutes. Chronic illness does not see or understand time.” —Deanna Guarino-Embry

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13. “There’s no such thing as ‘too young;’ we can’t just show out bodies ID and tell the illness to come back in 10-20 years!” —Jen Andrew

14. “It doesn’t get better. It is this way. Every day. Forever. If you’re in my life, please don’t ask me if I’m feeling ‘better’ today.” —Wendy Rose

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15. “We shouldn’t be treated like drug addicts or hypochondriacs and denied the care we truly need.” —Amy Brandborg

16. “I live a double life. What you see when I am at work: someone who is well put together, always dependable, smiling, will always tell you she is doing fine. My reality: I’m a mess, in so much pain, my smiles are forced, sometimes I have to find a quiet place to cry. But it’s much easier for me to fake it because coworkers don’t want to hear my truth day after day.” —Amber Weller

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17. “A ‘good attitude’ doesn’t take away pain or improve mobility. I am still human and I will have days when I just can’t drum up that ‘good attitude.’” —Vicki Gomes Petilli

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18. “I didn’t do this to myself. I didn’t not pray hard enough or believe hard enough. I didn’t not eat well enough or not exercise enough.” —Barb Silvestro

19. “It hurts to be forgotten because we have said no to so many events, parties, family gatherings, shopping trips, etc. I want them to still ask just so I know they are still thinking of me.” —Victoria Sinclair

Upset woman with grey hair

20. “There is no magic cure. I don’t want to be sick, but this is my reality. I can’t wish it away or cleanse it away or take supplements because your sister’s boyfriend’s mother did.” —Christina Marroquin-Mauricio

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21. “People don’t choose to feel horrible every day and lose the person they used to be.” –Caitlin Hoechst

22. “What I can do one day I might not be able to do the next.” —Becky Rider

23. “I’m not making it up. If I wanted to fake an illness, I would choose something that people would believe!” —Faith Merryn

Upset man

24. “My downtime doesn’t mean I’m depressed or isolating. It’s a time for me to heal and recharge.” —Kate Wilhelmi

25. “My illness does not define me, my dreams or who I am!” —Judy Fox Berryan

Woman on the beach

What’s one truth about chronic illness you wish others understood? Let us know in the comments below. And be sure to visit our new Facebook page, Chronic Illness on The Mighty.

All images via ThinkStock

25 Secrets of People With Chronic Illnesses

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On the Days I Wonder If I Am Chronically Alone

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$8.65

That’s what it costs to get the children fed on a chronically bad morning. I’ll confess I am chronically ill. Tomorrow I will chronically deny it and tell you I’m fine. Today I admit it. Not as an excuse. It really is a bad day. I’m chronically fatigued and chronically in pain.

Especially my left second toe. It hurts so bad I cannot bear for the sheets or socks to touch it. And I chronically wonder if I’m alone. I chronically wonder if I can make it funny. And I chronically wonder if I will feel better tomorrow.

It isn’t funny. I chronically question why I’m laughing. I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook thanks to chronic flashback notices. I saw a flashback of my first half-marathon. Sigh. I have traveled 1,000 miles in five years flat on my back. Well, four years. It was a year after that I tore my calf muscle and got plantar fasciitis. And that started my descent into chronic.

Chronic steroid injections were the first culprit. But it doesn’t matter because here I am. Chronic. Chronically tired. Chronically weak. Chronically grumpy. Chronically chubby. Chronically blah.

And I want to be chronically comfortable. Chronically fit. Chronically energized. I just am not. And it’s is getting cold out. I have the chronic metabolism of a Barbie and the body temperature to match. I chronically dread the change of seasons. I’m chronically told I don’t look sick. And I have my loves that help get me through, and they know lots about what plagues me, and I chronically seek their wisdoms. And then I get a chronic headache. And all I want to do is sleep and eat processed carbohydrates. And the chronic circle continues.

And I feel chronically guilty because it’s not cancer, although at one point doctors thought it was. And I feel chronically sad that I chronically complain. And I’m convinced some days my family is sick of me.

And I’ve been to dozens of doctors and have chronic medical debt. I am chronically told, “Welcome to fat and 40!” Although, if they were chronic listeners, they’d have heard the whole mess started when I was 38. I’ve sat in my car outside their offices and chronically cursed them.

So I’d love to have a little cheese with my chronic whine, but I can’t have dairy. And who wants cheese if you can’t have a cracker and I’m chronically allergic to wheat. I’m chronically told what to eat and what not to eat. It’s chronically exhausting.
And I’m chronically sure I will manage. I chronically do.

In the midst of chronic abdominal cramping and chronic ickiness, I cope.

Tomorrow might be better. I chronically pray it will be.

I have friends who deal with chronic depression, chronic pain and chronic illness. We chronically rally and hold each other up. Other days the chronic struggle is chronically mine, and I just wish to be left alone.

So I had a chronic meltdown because the song playing on my iPod when I finished my first half marathon, “I’m With You…” by Avril Lavigne, came on the radio an hour after I saw the Facebook notice. I felt like a chronic failure. A failure who spends $8.65 on a chronically horrid breakfast for her chronically wonderful babies. A chronic flood of memories of when boiled eggs and fresh fruit salad were all I would feed my precious children for breakfast, on our way to 5 a.m runs. Which we chronically attended.

I feel all the pangs of chronic failure. As I barked at my daughter to hurry and eat her doughnut so we won’t be chronically late, I can hear “I’m with you…” in the background.

And they me see cry and chronically apologize. I’m assured they will need chronic counseling.

I’m chronically confident the counseling sessions will be short. I will go with them and readily admit it’s chronically my fault.

And I will chronically strive to be better. I will chronically follow my strict regime. I will chronically blog. I will be chronically honest. I will chronically speak wellness. I will chronically believe.

I’m chronically stronger than I give myself credit for. I’m chronically in love with my husband and my children. I’m chronically surviving. And on the days it hurts, it chronically sucks. But the other days I will chronically remember I’m doing my best. The children will be OK. There is joy amongst the heartache. Chronic hope that tomorrow will be better. And I’m chronically not alone.

Follow this journey on Sacred Ground Sticky Floors.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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