A backpack filled with stones



By Caitlin Kelly

Had a conversation this week with a friend facing some serious health stuff. She’s not getting the support she needs and someone who should be there for her is instead adding to her very considerable stress by not being useful and making needed changes.

No one wants a backpack filled with stones.

I won’t be more specific but it was clear to me — as someone who’s had health issues (that oh-so-American euphemism for cancer) since June 2018 — that the minute you get a shitty diagnosis (or lose your job or face the loss of a loved one), your life is now weighted down in ways that may appear invisible to others but are very, very heavy and something you (mostly) alone are carrying.

Shame — especially in the U.S. where being “unproductive”, ill and needy is somehow taboo — adds yet another damn boulder.

Unless you can drop the backpack — and ask for help and count on getting it — having to listen to anything stupid, thoughtless or callous (and there’s plenty of it out there, from friends, family and medical staff) only adds another few stones.

No one wants that pack.

No one wants to carry it, sometimes for months or even years.

In tough times, their pack is already filled with grief and fear and physical pain and exhaustion and guilt and anxiety.

Carrying it isn’t much of a choice, even as others call you “brave” and “tough” and call out “you can fight this.”

If you know someone facing tough times, please do anything you possibly can to lighten their load.

Diminish that pack.


Do not add one more stone.


12 thoughts on “A backpack filled with stones

  1. interesting post and this is something everyone can relate to… a lot of people’s hearts need to be modified, and more loving in this challenging age, in order to help others remove that load

  2. Jan

    Thanks Caitlin for this thoughtful post. I have a close friend who, at age 50, has very serious health problems, She’s moved back in with her parents and manages, with difficulty, to work at a demanding job 3 days a week. Frequently some of her “friends” make snide comments about why she lives with her folks. Sometimes these are presented as well-meaning, motivational comments, but there’s an edge. Few people know that many times, it’s a struggle for her to get through the day. She also has constant doctor appointments and would not be able to work full time anyhow. People can be so thoughtless.

    1. A few thoughts:

      1) Unless she wants this kept secret (?) have you told these “friends” what she’s coping with?

      2) If they do (?) know she’s ill and is doing her best (or even if she’s not) they should shut up AND she should dump them at once as “friends” don’t say cruel things to people who are ill

      3) Not sure how any snide comment could possibly be construed as well-meaning (?) or motivational.

      4) When someone is that ill, their life is — as my post points out — already a huge daily struggle with a lot of pain and suffering. It is not merely “thoughtless” — in my view, they are cruel and appalling.

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  4. I passed the link to this post of yours along to a fellow WP blogger who has been struggling with her backpack of stones … this is an excellent post, Caitlin. True compassion can definitely be shown by demonstrating empathy (however difficult that may be) and by not adding stones to the backpack of another with personal struggles.

    1. Thanks. Glad you did this.

      I am sometimes stunned by the stupid and callous things people have said to me and I’ve cut off a few former friends for that reason.

      I wish everyone would be a LOT more aware of what they say and the effect it can have on someone who’s already in a lot of anxiety….

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