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Guilt: An Unspoken Side Effect of Chronic Illness


Dealing with a chronic illness is more than a full-time job, it quickly becomes a way of life. Everyday simple things like eating a meal or taking a shower are often too difficult a task for me to take on. One side effect that people don’t really talk about is the guilt associated with the illness. As unreasonable as it may sound, it is easy to put myself on a major guilt trip when I am dealing with being sick for the rest of my life.

One major source of guilt is the fact that I am always fatigued, in pain or both. My independence is slashed because I am forced to ask for help sometimes. I feel guilty when I cannot perform my job to the best of my ability and my coworkers have to pick up the slack. Missing work will occur frequently due to doctor appointments and sick days. I often feel indebted to those close to me. This is especially true of my family. There are days when I cannot get out of bed because of Crohn’s disease, so I find myself having to ask for help with my children because it’s not possible for a single parent to do it all and also be sick.

Some days I find myself more quick-tempered than I should be with my kids due to the amount of pain I am having. They certainly don’t deserve a sick parent, and it’s hard for little ones to fully understand what is going on in certain medical situations. My children have witnessed their mother being carried away by an ambulance more times than I care to remember. It is disturbing to think how scary that must be for them. I feel ashamed that I cannot always be there for them or take them to do fun activities more often. The energy is just not always there.

People with chronic diseases may often feel guilt-ridden because they cannot always make plans with friends or family. If we do make plans, we may have to cancel anyway at the last minute because of health issues. I feel guilty and selfish when I have to take time out for me. Sad that I am not able to do it all. Some days my body just requires me to rest and recharge. I have learned throughout the journey of my illness that not paying attention to my body is no longer an option. When it speaks, I better listen.

Finally, and probably the most ridiculous reason for feeling guilty, is that sometimes it seems like I am not sick enough for everyone. Crohn’s is not really a visible disease, and those who have it often look better than they feel. Sometimes I feel like my disease isn’t “real” enough for everyone.

So, if you are feeling useless and guilty about needing help to manage an incurable disease, don’t be so hard on yourself. Chances are, the only one who feels like it is a burden is you. You are not the same person you were before you were diagnosed and you shouldn’t act like you are. Being kinder to yourself is a great medication and by taking the time to take care of yourself, you can help ease your mind of these harmful and unnecessary feelings.

Getty Image by splendens