‘I don’t know how you do it’

My friend, Tammi, recently shared a video on Facebook by Kate Swenson (Finding Cooper’s Voice) and the “moment no one talks about in special-needs parenting.” It’s fantastic and you can view it here.

This friend and I have talked before about how our situations are different (autism vs bipolar disorder) but relatable.

Anyway, the thing that struck me was when Kate talks about how other people say to her, “I don’t know how you do it girl. You’re so strong.” … “Like there’s another choice?!” she says.

As I’ve started talking more (and writing) about my son’s mental illness as well as my chronic pain illness … and more people know about our struggles … I’ve been hearing this more. “I just don’t know how you do it.”

I cringe. It’s really hard to hear that. I know people mean well, but how do you respond to that? I generally smile awkwardly or try to make a joke or laugh it off.

Everyone is going through something, whether we know about it or not. This life is hard. It’s meant to be that way. So please stop trying to put us on a pedestal for something that we mostly fail at. It’s a struggle. I’m struggling with it. I haven’t conquered it. I probably won’t ever conquer it. I have good days and bad days. Some are absolutely wonderful. But some are unequivocally horrid.

I love something that my friend, Audra, says when someone is sharing about life’s difficulties. She says: “I see you.”

It’s simple and powerful. She sees that I’m going through something difficult. She’s acknowledging me and validating my feelings. That’s it. In 20+ years of dealing with this chronic pain illness, it’s the most empathetic thing I’ve ever heard.

'I don't know how you do it.' Chronic Illness. Empathy.
My daughter took this photo of the two of us on a road trip to Cape Girardeau and really has nothing to do with this blog post. Ha! (Is anyone even reading this?) Except for the fact that we both look happy but I was actually so miserable and in so much pain from traveling. “I just don’t know how you do it.” Well, I do it because I love my kids and they deserve the best from me.

There’s a woman who goes to my church, Jean, who always says, “It’s good to see you.” I love that, too. She knows about my illness so she never asks me how I’m feeling or how I’m doing. She’s empathetic without using cliches like “everything happens for a reason,” “just look on the bright side,” “God has a plan” (I believe He does have a plan but I seriously don’t want to hear it from you 😀), “this could be a blessing in disguise,” or “I know how you feel.”

I recently read an article by a social worker talking about grief. He said he rarely says “I know what you are going through” to someone who is grieving because everyone experiences grief differently.

I think it’s the same when we’re enduring any particular trial. You and I might have the same chronic illness or both lost our fathers recently or both have a wayward child … but it might affect us differently and we definitely have different surrounding circumstances.

So please think before you speak. How would you want someone to respond to what you’re struggling with?

I see you.



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