Somebody Heal Me:guilt-two-steps-forward-one-step-back is a blog post I can really relate to. Guilt is the plague of my existence.
The one thing of value I learned when I had to endure a therapist last year was when she questioned why my self-worth was tied up in how productive I believed myself to be. In other words, I felt pretty damn worthless when I am unable to work. And damned guilty when I dared to call in sick to work. And often agreed with any claim my employer made about my absences because I felt guilty for being sick, even though obviously that is one thing that is not in my control. It is a big deal for me. I feel like I am not contributing enough. That I have no purpose beyond my pain-filled existence… and who wouldn’t want to be more than just ‘that chick with horrific migraines’?
I don’t want to be defined by my illness, so when the one thing I try so damn desperate to hold onto, a job and one I have compromised a great deal on to have and basically increasing my pain and severely limiting my ability to do anything else, like socializing, well, take that away and what use am I? What am I beyond the pain? What point is there to existence? When I cannot come up with a satisfactory answer then it is a damn heavy burden to feel guilty I cannot even maintain that. Hell, it damn near killed me. I was suffocating in guilt and the fact I knew I could not ‘maintain’ and ‘function’. That somehow I should be able to ‘endure’ more pain in order to not feel guilty I am hindering or failing everyone. It makes my life seem so meaningless or worse, that if I did not exist not only would it make no real difference to most people around me but it would actually benefit the lives of some around me… like I am making the lives around me more difficult simply because my health complicates everything.
Because that is how my thought process spirals out of control. First the guilt. Then the effort to just get through the pain in order to do what is required of me. Then the rush of frustration and desperation when I realize yet again I can’t be what is required of me, that is the model employee. The fear that I will be fired, a real fear of course, but with it the guilt of being useless then, in not putting in my share and of being a liability. Then despair, numbness and depression because the effort in trying is just beyond me. Then, if I survive that, I usually more into anger and frustration, because I don’t have control over my health and I can only endure so much pain, so I tend to get pissed when people make unrealistic demands on me, after I beat myself up about it more than they do of course. But at least at that stage, I am ready to fight again… you need some fight in you to bother with it all.
It is plain idiotic to feel guilty about being ill because the fact of the matter is every single person will get an illness, chronic or curable, and every single person will lean on others in their time of need and every single person will have to find the strength to persevere all on their own. There are those that will make your life hell and then there are those that you will live for…. and both will make you feel guilty for entirely different reasons.
Guilt can be so strong because it is not about coping with our illness personally but how it inevitably affects those around us. Failing ourselves in real or imagined ways is quite different from feeling we are failing our family, friends, and co-workers. Or broadly, society itself. It is like how I hate to see anyone I love in any emotional or physical pain… how I would willingly take on that pain because tolerating it myself is better than seeing someone I love hurt. I can handle my pain, most of the time. I figure it out and do what I can. It is the guilt of knowing if I were healthy the lives of those around me would be quite different and easier.
There can be times when I feel I am surviving quite well. I feel good about my progress or about maintaining. Because maintaining is an impressive feat. Guilt, however, can smack me down pretty damn fast. It can just take one offhand remark from my employer or a perceived lack of how I feel like I am contributing less than I should in any facet of my life. Bam. I feel that heavy burden to be more than I am physically capable of. Sometimes this leads to trying to be more than I am physically capable of, which then leads to overtaxing myself and feeling defeated. It spirals down making pain weight heavily on me then I climb back up and for a brief time once again feel like I am willing the battle.
Guilt is sneaky that way.
It can creep in almost anywhere. Even though we rationally know our limits. Even though we have made the right compromises for our health. Even though we do everything humanly possible to maintain a basic existence. It may frustrate me to no end that people do not comprehend how much effort it is for me to get up and do anything. How many medications I need to take to be doing as ‘well’ as I am, even if that does not seem to be that well at all. But what can be worse is that I can’t let myself accept I am doing the best I can without being plagued by the guilt of not being able to be as functional as other people are. I can’t even give myself a break.
It is an illusion mostly though.
People all suffer and so most of us have the capacity to sympathize with the trials of others. My family does not think less of me for being ill. They try to help as best they can and if they could do more they would… just like I would for them. Most people I count as friends, even though I don’t have much capacity to be a good friend given how much time I give to recovering from getting through work that I have nothing more to offer, anyways, they know why I am socially hindered. They don’t hold it against me if I can’t go to such and such events. My spouse does not make me feel useless when I cannot work, he does not judge me when I call in sick or have to take a leave of absence. He would insist I do not work if I would let him, if I could tolerate the guilt of putting all that financial responsibility on his shoulders… but that is on me, not him. He does not add to my own sense of guilt. My co-workers do not think I am calling in sick for just the hell of it and almost all of them have been sympathetic and understanding of the difficulties I have. All of them are good people. Granted I cannot say that for my employer who does add to the guilt and seems to like to encourage it… but trust me she should not bother because I have enough all on my own. Definitely, do not need help in that department. And frankly, I should not let someone else judge me like that and make me feel worthless because their opinion of my struggles should not count. Odd how that one negative person making you feel guilty for being sick can have such a dramatic effect on our ability to cope, but then not so odd when you think on the fact those people are just verbalizing our own irrational beliefs.
Anyway if you’re having a bad pain day let yourself just be. Don’t place irrational demands on yourself. Or what you could accomplish if you were ‘healthy’. Or what judgments other people place on your personal struggles, because they diminish your successes as well. Just be for a moment, without feeling guilty. We will feel guilty. Irrational or not. Coping is not perfect. And some days are more difficult than others, which taxes us emotionally. Know it and also know that not everything is in our power or control. Because if we don’t reflect on why we feel guilty, why we should not and