Simply danLrene

Work Your Dream

The Ramifications of Helplessness in The Chronically Ill

The ramifications of helplessness in the chronically ill is a very sensitive topic and one that I hope I can do justice to. I have many times talked about how the chronically ill must grieve every time a part of their ability to do something on their own is lost and then comes the need for acceptance of where they are in life. Probably the hardest thing to accept is helplessness.

Helplessness comes in many forms and we give up personally when we are helpless to do whatever task it is that we want done…whether it be something like tending to one’s own personal needs or trying to plant a few seeds in a pot or fix your own dinner plate or even wash your own hair, or we feel helpless to deal emotionally with some event in life. No matter what it is, unless one is in the exact same place, it is hard to understand what it does emotionally to the person that is helpless.

helpless two

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I have lost the ability to do many things. I tend to focus on the positive and to try not to dwell on what I have lost but there are moments where we feel such a sense of frustration and loss that it can bring us to tears. I have tried to work on something lately and can not do it alone and yet can not get anyone to help me. It makes me feel impotent to carry out this task and leaves me feeling defeated. I have to fight these feelings for they can take over if we are not careful.

The ramifications of helplessness in the chronically ill are the person losing the desire to keep trying, the person becoming filled with despair, and  the person feeling  frustration and loss that is as big and black as looking into a big empty volcano hole and the one that is feeling helpless feels like they are falling head first into that black hole.

“To my mind….. the more helpless the individual, the more it is entitled to protection by man from the cruelty of man.”  


I have had people tell me that they would do this or that  for me and they mean well and it is nice to have the help but most people are totally clueless about the devastation that comes with becoming helpless. They are cavalier about what is happening to us, which makes us feel minimized or diminished.

As I normally do, I am going to use myself to explain and to paint a picture that I hope helps others to get a glimpse into what it means. I am helpless when it comes to putting my shoes on. I can no longer bend my legs up close enough that I can put my socks or shoes on. My son has to do it for me. I can not wash my back sitting in my shower chair and so my son, after I get wrapped in a towel, will reach in and scrub my back.

When I had the radio frequency ablation, I was helpless to change the bandages that were on my back  which was extremely embarrassing because the lower spine ones are down below the waist of my pajamas. But I must have it done and son is my caretaker and so he does it. I handled well losing the ability to cook and having someone else fix my food for me because I still have the ability to feed myself.

Helplessness equates with dependency on another and none of us really like to be dependent on another person for our most basic needs. There are so many things I want to do and dream of doing. I want to take my photographs of the clouds and put them in a book and yet I am helpless to do it alone. I want to put my blog posts in a book but the helplessness comes from the exhaustion of trying to cut and paste and get it just like I want it. And I fight the urge to just give up.

kindnessImage from

Yes, you all know me well and I wear my mojo and I refuse to give up but I want to use myself so people can maybe get just a small look…a flickering of understanding of what helplessness is like even for strong people like me. And some have told me “oh I know. When I broke my leg, I was totally helpless”.  Yes, that is true that a person with a broken leg is helpless to do many things. But the difference in someone with an injury like a broken leg and someone with an incurable chronic illness is that the broken leg will heal and the ability to do will return whereas a person chronically ill will continue to lose the ability to do things.

I am writing this because I want others that are not chronically ill to maybe get where they can look at us and see we are not just lazy or just do not want to do anything. We are really ill and in many aspects of our lives, we are helpless. We fight to keep going and to not lose the ability but it happens. I am also writing this because I want those that are around us to look and not take things out of our hands if we are taking too long to do it but to look at us and say “can I do anything to help?”   And if we are at the point we can accept help we will tell you yes.

I remember someone who is a reader of my blog telling me how she was trying to get the snow off her car and she just could not do it and was standing there crying in despair and frustration at the feeling of being so helpless. Helplessness has many ramifications. It can strip us of our dignity. It can strip us of our fight and determination. It can throw us into the pit of despair and make us quit fighting to keep going.

And when those around us look at us like we are just not trying or we are just lazy, then it causes us to pull into ourselves and we become isolated because we just can not take the judgment. One of the most important things for a person chronically ill or disabled is to be able to accomplish for our own self-pride and to do things for ourselves as best we can. This may mean we do not do the kind of job you would but just doing the job can make us feel pride in ourselves. We have to learn to praise ourselves and be proud for ourselves when we accomplish something and we do not depend on the words “I am so proud of you” coming from others. For what happens when that person is no longer there?  We are always with ourselves..

Please stop and look at us sometime and see our grit and determination but also see the tears that helplessness brings and step up and gently say “can I give you some help”.  That would mean the world to us. My aunt that I call “Mama” fell in a parking lot one time when it was summer and the black top was boiling hot. Not one person came over and asked her could they help her as she struggled to get back on her feet. She walks with a cane and has spinal problems like me. She had tears streaming down her face as the helplessness set in and her hands burned every time she put them on the black top to try to stand. Looking around she could see people just watching but no one…no one offered to help. She finally managed to get herself up by hanging on to a hot bumper until she could pull herself up and slowly walk until she got into her car where she sat crying from the helpless feeling and burnt hands and knee. And that memory seared deep into her heart and the fear of being helpless has really set in.

We are not contagious. We are not lazy or just faking. We are people with chronic illnesses…some that you can not see if you look at us but that are slowly taking our bodies and as we lose more and more of the ability to do, that feeling of being helpless…of being dependent on another begins to hover over us and we have to learn how to accept the reality of what is happening to us and know that our lives are changing in ways we never dreamed would happen. And when we need help and keep asking and no one is willing, the ramifications of that helplessness are staggering especially as it grows and we become more and more helpless in other areas of our lives.

People ask me how I handle this. I have my moments where I cry in frustration. It is not bad to feel frustrated or down about it….it is how you allow those feelings to dominate your life that matter.  I might cry and then I shake my fist at it and say “you are not going to win” and sometimes beating that helplessness involves asking for help.  We have to be willing to ask. Life is full of things that batter us and we may cry in frustration or pain but then we have to pick ourselves up and say we choose to not let the loss destroy us. It is our choice to decide how we are going to feel about our lives no matter how they are.


February 26, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,


  1. So sorry to read about Jack’s passing. Has Daisy come to live with you yet? I admire your spirit and thank you for being an inspiration.

    Comment by Jenise Wright | February 27, 2013 | Reply

  2. At times when I have such pain I can’t do simple things I think of you and others as unless a person can’t and aren’t in this spot it isn’t something they can easily understand. I helped people for 30 years. That helped but not enough as I found out. I wish no one has to go through it but many do and many more will and I know I am better than I was not long ago but not enough that I can do some things. I was able to do something yesterday I didn’t think I could I was asked to take pictures at a event and I did it. My camera is heavier as the big lenes makes it so. It is something I can’t do often and for long. So I understand you not being able and the pain of not being able to do what you love to do. Sending love and prayers.

    Comment by Darlene | February 26, 2013 | Reply

  3. This has so many things to think about. It is one of the times I wonder if your doctors, staff and others who “help” in the medical field read your blog. There are thoughts here of which they need to be more aware.

    Comment by Ann | February 26, 2013 | Reply

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