We often hear about the symptoms of chronic illness and chronic pain. Muscle fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, nausea, stomach & bowel disturbances, skin issues, chest pain, fatigue, malaise, and many many more.
But what’s often not mentioned is the emotional toll any chronic illness takes on every person who suffers. In particular, the guilt that comes with it.
It seems strange to say – I mean, why would you feel guilty for something you had no say in? But it’s an unfortunate and common side effect of chronic illness or pain.
No one actually wants to be a burden. No one wants to hold other people back. So we do exactly what we shouldn’t do – we spend all day apologising to others for our illnesses and our limitations. For the reason we can’t work full time, or work at all. For the reason we need extra rest. For the reason we can’t do too many physical activities. For the reason we can’t get out of bed that day. Our illness, that we can’t help or control, makes us feel invalid and like we’ve lost all value – and ultimately makes us feel guilty.
Did we do something to deserve this? Could we have taken better care of our bodies before this happened? Is there something more we could be doing to feel better – to be better? Should we listen to all that unsolicited advice, spending every extra penny we have on controversial treatments and natural methods that may or may not work?
What’s the right answer for this predicament we didn’t see coming, the ‘sure thing’ cure we haven’t tried yet. I swear, if you just tell me what it is, I will do it!
But that desperation for an answer to ‘fix’ our bodies does nothing to ease our mind of the guilt, or the fear that maybe it really is all in our heads. We still feel bad every single time we have to cancel any social plans. We still feel bad when friends just start forgetting to invite you, because you rarely show up anyway. We still feel bad when we’re on date night and have to leave early when our bodies start to fail us, or planning a 5pm early bird dinner just so you can be in bed by 8pm. We still feel bad about all the limitations that come with any outing. We still feel bad making plans at all, knowing we may have to cancel. We still feel bad for all the extra responsibilities other people have to take on at work in our absence.
Our limitations, become their limitations.
I still feel bad when my close friends and family, or my boyfriend, says “it’s okay,” when I cancel or pull out of plans. And they mean it. It really is okay, they understand my reasons, they sympathise. So why does that just make me feel worse? More guilty. Like maybe I’m taking advantage of their love for me. Like I’m hurting these people that care for me so much that they have unlimited patience when it comes to my struggle for my health. I’ve just wasted their time and ruined their plans for the day, but somehow it’s okay. But it’s not okay… Not to me. Never to me.
Guilt. All consuming, occasionally debilitating, and most of all, unexplainable… And the symptom we often don’t talk about. But it’s there, devouring us from the inside and causing more conflict in our minds than we care to admit. Do we put our health first, or do we just push through that activity that we know will just cause us more harm afterwards? Am I being selfish for choosing rest when I need it?
I can answer that, confidently and surely…. No, you are not being selfish for looking after your health. I know that, yet I still question it daily. Maybe it’s time to stop apologising for something that we cannot help, that we did not ask for, and that we are doing everything and giving everything to try to fix. Maybe over time, that guilt will be a light shadow in the background of our minds, rather than consuming it. But most of all, the moment we stop apologising, is the moment we show others that we don’t care what they think. That we know we didn’t ask for this or want it, and that we will not continue to say sorry simply for being sick.
…Easier said than done, right?