I Stopped Feeling Guilty About Being Chronically Ill

Don't let the guilt of being chronically ill rule over your life.

I Stopped Feeling Guilty About Being Chronically Ill

By Lana Barhum Published at February 26, 2014 Views 6,306

I am no stranger to the overwhelming burden of guilt about my health and how it has affected my family. My chronic illness guilt isn’t constant but is due to factors such as stress and flare-ups. Moreover, it affects my daily life, my personal and professional responsibilities and my ability to participate in social functions. I have spent a lot of years dealing with self-imposed guilt but I have also learned that I don’t always have to feel guilty about my illnesses.

In the Beginning

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia shortly after my youngest son was born and I am now six years into my battle with chronic illness and pain. My pain over the years has gone from widespread, to hard to control, to well-managed, to activity specific and vice versa. My illnesses have invaded every aspect of my life and my kids’ lives.

Learning to manage the effects of chronic illness on my life — our lives — I often wondered whether the sickness and pain will ever leave us. I saw chronic illness as an unwanted houseguest — unannounced, interfering, and causing havoc on all of our lives. And the sicker I got, the more I needed help managing my home life.

I felt incapable and angry because I wasn’t able to do things that I “should” be able to do, such as cooking healthy meals and keeping our home clean. I often overdid things and ended up with flare-ups that kept me in bed for days and from doing all the things I desperately wanted to do. It was a never ending cycle of guilt and flare-ups and all I wanted to do was to continue to work, feel productive and to take care of my family.

My Guilt Was Selfish

Guilt was something that forced me to overcompensate in every aspect of my life. I was overindulging and swimming in my own guilty conscience. I thought I had a right to feel guilty because I wasn’t able to participate in physical activities with my children or because I was no longer cooking meals from scratch or that our home wasn’t impeccably clean. I spent so much time overreacting that I didn’t see the bigger picture, where my children didn’t care about any of these things — at least not in the way I did.

I was felt like a bad mother — useless and insufficient. Why couldn’t I give my children everything they needed? Why couldn’t I get better? Was it really too much for me to cook a healthy meal for my children or to spend time outdoors with them? I didn’t have those answers but the realization that I was being self-destructive hit me like a ton of bricks.

My guilt was all about me and it was selfish. I was whining, letting my feelings take over and having my own extravagant pity party. I had decided what a good and useful mother should look like. But good mothering had nothing to do with home-cooked meals, a spotless home or even spending time outdoors doing physical activities. Moreover, my kids weren’t suffering because of a lack of these things. If anything, they were doing just fine.

Lessons Learned

Like many of you, I have blamed myself for being chronically ill and for the things I no longer have control of. Over time, I have learned how detrimental guilt is to my health and relationships. But the process of letting go wasn’t an easy one. Moreover, it involved a clear awareness of my own needs and what I could and could not reasonably do.

It is easy to get in the habit of blaming ourselves for our illnesses and what we are no longer able to control. I know from experience that chronically ill patients start to doubt themselves and even view themselves as useless or lazy because they are no longer able to participate in physical activities. I often remind myself that my illnesses are here for the long haul and while I can feel good for a day, or week or even a month, it only takes one flare to send me back to bed or having to miss work. That means I don’t have enough time to focus on my guilt.

During flare-ups, my responsibilities seem like huge mountains to climb. But if I can focus on getting better rather than feeling guilty or useless, those mountains are less overwhelming. And if I don’t let my selfish guilt take over, I can stop a pity party before it starts. Furthermore, I remind myself that when I am stronger, I can tackle my mountains of responsibility.

Another challenge that many of us struggle with that adds guilt is that we often look back to the life we had before we were sick — when we were harder working employees, more attentive parents, and when we didn’t feel lazy. I have learned that looking back doesn’t help me deal with what is going on right now. And when I am not looking back, my guilt is eased and that benefits both my health and well-being and it also helps me to be the mother my children deserve.

Learn to Let Go

Guilt makes being chronically ill harder and causes emotional stress that is damaging to our bodies and spirits. When you are feeling stronger, you can take on the world without guilt or pity and with motivation but in the meantime, give yourself the same kindness and sympathy you would give to others.

Learn to let go of guilt by being honest with yourself about your limitations and abilities and choose to accept your circumstances. These choices have helped me to stop feeling guilty and I hope that they help you to ease your own guilty conscience as you manage and live with your chronic illness.

To learn more on this topic:
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Relationships, Improving, Sharing Diagnosis
Stop RA From Killing Your Relationship
Tips for Talking with Friends and Family About RA

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