Love Showed Up: When People Say They are Hurting, Believe Them


Abby Norman is a brave, dear friend with a voice that makes one feel stronger for bearing witness to it, I hope you enjoy her wise words today.

But you seem fine.

From 1997-2009  my body was not fine. I was tired and achy and just didn’t feel good. For hours, for days, for months at a time. I for sure was not fine.

But you look fine.

But I looked fine. I looked totally normal. I was tallish and thinish and smiled and laughed a lot . I was participating in class discussions and marching the tenor drums in the marching band and trying out for the school plays. I was bringing home trophies from the speech tournaments and dating boys.

Then, I would just up and disappear.

For a day, for two days, on a really bad stretch for a week. In my Junior Year of High school I missed most of the month of October. But I looked totally fine. I got my diagnoses a month after that terrible October, about 4 years after the whole ordeal started.  I got my miraculous healing 9 years later.

But in between? I got a lot of people questioning whether or not I was telling them the truth. What do you mean muscle disorder? You look totally fine. I get that you are tired Abby, but I am tired too. We are all tired, all of us have feet that hurt. What do you mean you can’t eat that? My mom has fibromyalgia too, but she doesn’t react this way.  I didn’t even hit you that hard, it was in fun, on the back. Stop crying.

Here is a piece of advice that is overlooked because it seems so basic: When people tell you that they are suffering, believe them.

With a cancer diagnoses, a parent dying, a baby coming, there are obvious signs that people are in need. But what about when it is a little less obvious, a little more constant. Is there space in your life for suffering that seems hard to understand? Or the kind a quick google says not all doctors can agree on?

When people tell you they are suffering, believe them.

Believe them when it is incomprehensible. Even when it feels like they are lying, when they tell you they are sick and 24 hours later show up to an event seemingly totally fine. Just because you don’t see the suffering, because it is happening in rooms that are behind closed doors, doesn’t mean the suffering doesn’t exist. Even if you don’t understand it, believe them.

There were a million moments where my suffering was invalidated, my pain not believed, my decisions about how to use my energy to have as normal a life as possible were scoffed at. That part sucked.

But love showed up a million times over.

In the ways my college roommate and my friend upstairs would just quietly go get my lunch or dinner when I told them I couldn’t really get out of bed.

When my speech teammates would quietly take the bag off of my slightly shaking arm, get up from their seat and quietly insist that I sit down. Now.

When the pastor of my church not only didn’t tell me I was a distraction, but thanked me for being willing to show up to my church with a yoga mat in hand when it was just too painful to sit in the pews. He said I was a visual sign to guests that everyone was invited.

Love showed up in the seventh grade when my friend noticed that I had been gone for a school for a month and showed up on Valentines day with a teddy-bear and a box of candy that let me know I wasn’t forgotten.

Love showed up in the forms of teachers who tutored me during lunch, excused a couple of quizzes, stayed after school to let me make up a test. Then, they applauded and congratulated me for the success I was having on the speech team. They didn’t question why I could show up for that and not class.

There were a million ways that people were the hands and feet of Jesus to me when I was chronically and somewhat mysteriously ill.

But it all started here: They believed me.

The most painful thing that happened to me during those years was being ignored, and not being believed.

Love showed up every time my pain wasn’t questioned. Every time how can I help was uttered instead of “why do you need that?”

I’m not the first or only to have an invisible illness. I am not the only one I know whose pleas for help have been met with an eye roll, a shoulder shrug, a why? There are things people suffer that we understand and can relate to, and there are things we just don’t get. (Mental health issues often fall into the second category.) I don’t know why some suffering is easier for me to dismiss than others. But I do know this:

Love showed up for me when people believed I was in pain. Even when I didn’t look like it. Even when I didn’t act like it. If you want to love someone who is suffering, believe them.


Abby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She swears a lot more than you would think for a public school teacher and mother of two under three. She can’t help that she loves all words. She believes in champagne for celebrating everyday life, laughing until her stomach hurts and telling the truth, even when it is hard, maybe especially then. You can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional and tweeting at @accidentaldevo. Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies and literally burning lies in her backyard fire pit.

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You can also find me on twitter and Facebook as well. Join the conversation on all fronts! That’s my recommendation…

Interested in contributing to this series? I’d love to hear your story. Shoot me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and we’ll have a cup of virtual coffee over it.

  • Tanya Marlow

    That’s it.
    You’ve said it perfectly.
    I am so grateful for you.

    • Abby Norman

      You already know that this feeling is entirely mutual.

    • Leanne Penny

      I’m grateful for both of you lovely, strong women.

  • Caiobhe

    I am glad that Love kept showing up for you. My children have had invisible illnesses, one still ongoing, and it is such a gift when someone just believes without needing to see for themselves. Thanks for writing this so well.

    • Abby Norman

      I am praying there will be many who keep showing up. I am praying for understanding and compassion for your children.

  • Mark Allman


    It is nice to see you over here at Leanne’s place. To be ignored and not believed are two of the worst things you can do to someone. Each by itself can devastate some. When we ignore someone we are basically saying you are not worth my time. We we don’t believe someone we are telling them they are lacking. We should always be careful to not treat anyone either of these ways.

    When Tanya Marlow wrote her post for this series she made an excellent point at how difficult it is for people to ” keep on giving when there is no fixed end point. I am thankful for those people who do continue in the face of no end point and I pray that I would be that type of person for those whom I may have the privilege to stand in the gap for.

    I would say most suffering that people have is not visible. You are so right Abby when a person is willing to let you know they are suffering it is so important to believe them. If not then we most likely add a pain worse than what they suffer.

  • Andrea Frazer

    Abby, this is God’s timing for sure. A friend of mine – my best friend – stopped talking to me and a whole bunch of folk for a month because of her illness. She just wasn’t feeling understood. There’s more to the story then I want to get into, but one thing I DO know is that, in this past month, I’ve been convicted over and over that I don’t have to agree or understand. I just need to be there. As you said so well, “To be the hands and feet of Jesus.” I just LOVE this Leanne Penny and her gaggle of writerly Christian transparent people. I would like you all to adopt me. And please write to me! I hold the keys to the Kingdom at Editorial! I will do all I can to publish you! Let’s get the Word out in a fresh, real way that hurting people – smart people – and lost people can understand! (This comment went way longer than I anticipated. I blame Leanne for that. Her posts always do that to me.)

    • Leanne Penny

      Andrea thank you for this comment and for your inviting spirit working to change hearts and internets. Truly, thank you.

    • Abby Norman

      Wow! Thank you so much! Invisible illness is so hard, and it is often easier to just go away for awhile. I am praying for this relationship.

  • Joann Hartman Eyster

    I needed this for my girl. For my girl who woke up sick and throwing up this morning and only made it to the last 45 minutes of classes today. I needed this. Thank you Abby, my beautiful friend!

  • Megan Whitmore

    Abby, I apologize to you (whom I’ve never met) and to my friends for the moments when I didn’t believe you all. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.

  • chrissybee

    Perfectly stated! Thank you for writing this, on behalf of my 11 year old son who “looks fine” and who most certainly isn’t. People don’t understand- they question our parenting, his honesty, our ‘diagnosis’ after we went from one doctor to another just trying to find an answer. You just verbalized exactly what has been on my heart, but I have been unable to express. Thank you.

    • Abby Norman

      Oh my heart. Oh that is so hard! It is so confusing and the other kids and the adults. Oh! I will be praying for your boy.

  • Beth

    Perfect. Thank you.

  • Liz

    Liz, I have been told nothing is wrong all my life since I have been old enough to tell someone I hurt, suddenly felt like the rug has been jerked from under me. I will be fine one minute the next I feel like I’m so exhausted I can’t make another step. I have left work because I couldn’t stay and work any more that day, come home go straight to bed sleep several hours.

  • Cara Strickland

    Oh Abby, yes. I am a very perfectionistic person. When I look like I’m falling apart, it’s often too late. Thank you for sharing these words, and offering this challenge. There truly is no reason not to believe someone who says that they are suffering.

  • pastordt

    You nailed this, Abby. Thank you.

  • Amy Michelle Wiley

    Thanks for this article, Abby. I’m teary-eyed. I also have an invisible chronic illness and look just fine most days, but I’m getting sicker by the year and am almost homebound now, at 31. I still feel forgotten or misunderstood sometimes, but also have experienced so much acceptance and encouragement through the years. Thanks for the plea from all of us that there is so much more than can meet the eye–something good for all of us to remember.

  • daydreamerinca .

    You have said this so well. Thank you.

    Three times in the last year, complete strangers have given me the gift of believing. I doubt they have any idea what that meant, but I will never, ever forget.