Woman looking out the window

To the Person With Chronic Illness Feeling Guilty About a Health Choice


Managing chronic illness can be hard. Just keeping a healthy lifestyle is hard, even if you have good health, but the demands of chronic illness often require much more attention than a simple healthy lifestyle:

  • Careful pacing, not to mention the enormous strength of will needed not to overdo it on a good day.
  • Careful attention to diet and hydration.
  • The willingness to keep up with regimes and protocols even when progress is slow.

We all have little ways of sabotaging our self-help, often based in comfort-seeking to help us through our pain, discomfort and frustration. I’m pretty sure we all feel guilty for not having done the best by our health. It doesn’t always stop there either; it’s an easy slide into self-judgment and believing we’re less of a person for not being able to do what we believe we need to do.

But this beating ourselves up has got to stop. It doesn’t help. All it does is weaken our motivation further and introduce tension into our bodies, which can oppose any attempts our bodies might be making to put things right.

So how do we break that cycle?

1.  Self-compassion.

Remember that whatever you did that didn’t support your health, you did for a reason. It may have been an unconscious message from your body using old behavior patterns in an aim to get your needs met, or it may have been a conscious “stuff it” decision. It may even have been a decision based on what you thought was right as the time, but you’d just misjudged somehow. Even if the resultant action didn’t support your health and well-being, it came from some kind of need inside you that you were doing your best at the time to meet. Be kind to yourself for the fact that you had needs pressing upon you. We often have a variety of conflicting needs, and it’s not always easy meeting one without doing harm to another. If the needs of our health are suppressing our other needs, from time to time they are going to scream out and we’re going to want to do something about them. That’s normal and understandable, and any suffering involved is worthy of our own self-compassion.

2.  Recognize the need.

Looking back on our mistakes gets us nowhere unless we choose to learn from them. There are many things we do that we are better off just putting behind us, however if a particular kind of thought or action is regularly sabotaging your attempts at meeting your goals, it might be worthy of some scrutiny. What was the need you were trying to meet? Can you brainstorm other healthier ways to meet that need when it presents itself again, or even in advance of it pushing itself upon you again?

3. Recognize that it’s not what you did in the past that counts but how you move forward.

The past can’t be changed. Beating yourself up won’t have any influence on what has already happened, but choosing a positive forward path from here can be empowering. Part of that path needs to be compassionate forgiveness; another part, a wider awareness of your conflicting needs; another part, an action plan for how to balance your needs better in the future. But most importantly is the willingness to just let what’s happened be.

4. Trust that you are doing your best.

Believe in yourself! Trust that on each occasion, you are doing your best, and that you have the potential to grow and learn how to do things better. Understand that whatever you are doing is enough, that you cannot expect more of yourself than your body can give. It isn’t the end of the world if you don’t achieve everything you’d hoped for; your improving well-being has its own pace, and you can only go as fast as your combination of needs will let you.

Editor’s note: This is based on one person’s experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a doctor or medical professional for any questions or concerns you have.

Follow this journey at ME/CFS Self-Help Guru.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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