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What the Number of Items in My Purse Can Tell You About My Health

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Today, I had a very busy day. As I was getting ready to leave, frantically searching for something that should have been in my purse, it occurred to me that the item I was so desperately seeking was not something most people would think twice about. I was running around looking for mouth spray. Not the kind you use for fresh breath, but the kind that gives you moisture so you can keep talking to people. And this got me thinking: what else do I carry in my purse as a chronically ill person that others who are “normal” do not?

Well, what happened next was an internet call for people to empty their purses and photograph the contents. The results not only show that I probably need to switch to an industrial strength material for my shoulder bag, but that everyone has something stashed away that is unique to them.

Here is a cross section of what I found:

content's of the author's niece's purse

My lovely niece sent me this. I am mystified. She is the mom of a 3-year-old. Granted, I stated purses and not diaper bags or totes but this is worthy of framing! No snacks, toys or crumbs. (I still have crumbs in my purse!) Standard headache medicine and eye drops. Kleenex, lip gloss. Now this girl is drop-dead gorgeous, I expected a ton of makeup in her purse (not that she needs any at all), but I just thought she’d carry some. I truly have no clue how she does it. I was never this neat as a young mom. But it seems perfectly normal…

contents of a friend's purse


This is high school friend. And much more my level. A bit messier with receipts, multiple pens, random bandaids and personal items for her kids (I mean this lady is an absolutely awesome mom! Of teenagers! Girls!). Loose change that never gets into a wallet (lol!) but is so helpful for that last minute item, or donut. And again, the random headache medicine… For the mom of two teenage girls, this is an amazingly small amount of stuff, right?? Or as the mom of boys, did I just carry way more first aid items? And tools? And balls? But nothing strange…

contents of a friend's purse

So, here’s another friend from the internet. Her children are grown. In fact, one just got married! Again, way neater than I’ve ever been, but still pretty standard. Lip colors (she’s always trying out the new photo filter thingies on her FB avatar, so colorful lipsticks don’t surprise me), cash, keys and glasses. I know the measuring spoon and little bottle are salt! (Had to clarify…) And a medicine bottle. OK, the salt is a bit weird, but I carry it too, so…

I look at these three purses and think these are all very organized women. They have it all together. Maybe it’s just me. Am I incapable of achieving this? I’ll show you why I ask this…

This is my purse:

contents of the author's purse

Among the notables are five different types of eye drops and a mirror, four different lip moisturizers and lipsticks, six medications for my illness, mouth moisture spray, lidocaine patches, lotion or sunscreen, sunglasses, sun wrap, Gatorade or water, things I squeeze when in pain, loose change, pens and notepad, perfume and spice powder for sweat scent, allergy meds, inhaler in the summer, my disability parking tag, salt in a bottle (unless I am wearing it), and an ice pack I can beat up in the heat. (I have no clue about the random wooden ball that was in there today…)

It’s overwhelming. But I actually use most of this on a daily basis! And the stuff I don’t use daily, I still need to carry in case I flare up. But normal people have absolutely no clue why someone would have a sarong in their purse. Or a bottle of salt. Ask the cashier who looked at me as if I were an alien as I was pulling stuff out of my purse looking for my debit card stating I had just used it at Starbucks. But those things are necessities to me. They keep me upright in extreme sun, heat and humidity. I just cannot be in the sun or the heat. At all. And my body needs more salt than a normal person. So yes, I carry it. And sometimes, I pour it into my mouth. Straight.

One thing you cannot see in my photo is the note I carry from my doctor stating that due to the extent and ramifications of my Sjogren’s, I must be allowed to carry my water and/or Gatorade everywhere. To me, water and Gatorade are medicine.

What I am trying to illustrate is the fact that for us, it’s hard. On the one hand, we need extra stuff for our daily routines. Sometimes, we need it just to survive. But on the other hand, we also want to be normal. To not have to worry about having it all with us or what will happen if we don’t. I have another friend who, like me, is also chronically ill. She sent me a list of what she carries in her purse, but she chose not to photograph it. For her, the daily necessities have become much more intimate:

“Water bottle, wallet, small meds case, large zipper type bag containing three smaller bags, one for sterile gloves, one for emergency urostomy supplies and the third for emergency colostomy supplies, tissues, hand sanitizer, cell phone and last, chap stick that I always lose in the bottom of the bag. I also have a hand towel wrapped around a urinal in my purse.”

People who don’t always have to think about 75 things before they can leave the house don’t understand the importance of these things. Looking over the contents of the photos sent to me, I know my friends understand some of my more common issues. I know they understand the pain and intensity of migraines and that surgeries and back pain have plagued some of them. But I also know that most will never truly understand how vitally important most of the items I carry are. Like my water. I will turn around and make myself late if I forget it. Believe me, not everywhere supplies it and it is that important.

So next time you are filling your purse, take note. What goes in it says a lot about you. If you are someone who can create a masterpiece, like my niece, you are awesome! But remember, if you end up behind, or cashing out someone like me, there may be a huge reason our purses look the way they do. And that may very different than just being too busy or scatterbrained. There are approximately 133 million Americans who are chronically ill in the US, so give us a little leeway and understanding. Because deep down, we really just want to throw it all out the bleepin’ window!

Originally published: July 25, 2018
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