Guilt is an emotion among the chronically ill that is so abundant, we could use it as our middle name. We feel guilty because we have to depend on other people to take care of us at times; we feel guilty because we can’t play with our kids as much as we (or they) want us to; and we feel guilty if we can no longer work and help financially support our families.
I know from personal experience that chronically ill patients will start to doubt themselves and think at times that because they can no longer physically work that they are lazy. I have had to give myself a pep talk about this issue many times. If you talk to a lot of chronically ill people, they will tell you that before they became sick they worked more than full-time hours and were involved in many extracurricular activities as well. Once the illness hits, everything changes and life as we once knew it is no more. If the person previously defined themselves by what they did, they no longer can do that and they have to learn who they are all over again.
What a lot of people don’t understand about chronic illness is that there are many of these illnesses that go into remission, but the illness never goes away and our body always lets us know the disease is simmering underneath. We may feel good for a day, a few weeks, even months, to only have a flare that sends us back to bed or taking time off from work.
During these “flare” periods when I can’t do anything except watch television and sleep, I will start to think that maybe I am just lazy. Every move I make is an effort and I have to think about it and tell myself over and over, “Okay, you need to get up to go to the bathroom”. “You need to get up to throw something in the crock-pot for dinner”. “You need to pay the bills”. These are all normal functions that most people just take for granted. When you are chronically sick, these small chores can seem like huge mountains to climb. It is during these times I start to doubt myself, as many of us who are sick do and feel guilty because we think everyone else is out working, why aren’t we?
At times like these I have to stop, take a deep breath, get over my pity party and remember that if I were healthy, and if I were feeling well, what would I be doing? I would be working just as hard, if not harder, than everyone else.
Those of us who are chronically ill need to remember what we were like before we were sick. If you were a hard worker, and if you still are when you are feeling well, you know that you are not lazy. I don’t always recommend looking back to the past when you are chronically ill because we need to focus on what we have to deal with now and move on from there. But in this instance I think looking back is important because it does show us a pattern of living that can help ease the guilt. Guilt just makes chronic illness worse and the emotional stress we often place upon ourselves is damaging as well.
I know that when I am feeling well I am ready to take on the world and I am extremely motivated. I am told that even with as sick as I am, I still get more done in a day than a lot of healthy people. I don’t feel that is true, but it does feel good to hear it from others!
To those of you who are chronically ill, I think by stopping and reflecting over your life and your work ethic gives a total picture that can ease your mind with knowing that you are not lazy and never were. You are sick and you (and I) have to realize that this is the hand that we have been dealt and we have to make the most of it. Let’s stop beating ourselves up over what we can’t control. Love your life even if it is limited.