What to Do If You Have a Chronic Illness and Your Family Thinks You're Lazy
With the conditions of multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, I am a part of numerous social media groups with people who have chronic illness. I frequently see posts like, “My partner thinks I am lazy,” “My kids are mad that I can’t do what they need me to do,” and “My parents tell me to get over it and suck it up.” Although these situations are emotionally traumatizing and can cause feelings of deep isolation and hurt, they have many valuable and life-changing lessons to teach us… if we let them.
We can learn from the behaviors of others…
First… take a step back, perhaps with a pen and paper and evaluate. Have your loved ones actually said that they believe you are lazy, not fulfilling their imposed duties, must suck up your pain and move on, or do you perceive that is what they are thinking? Write down or think about the words and behaviors that have led you to believe that is how they feel and view the situation. It may very well be that family has indeed said these and other rude and pain-causing things to you, but that is for the next paragraph.
We need to make sure that we aren’t projecting how we feel about ourselves onto our loved ones as if they feel that way about us. If our partner gives a dirty look when seeing the pile of dishes in the sink, it may not mean they believe we are lazy, maybe they are thinking they should finally buy that dishwasher or could have done them themselves. The point is to make sure that we fully understand what our family members are feeling so that we are not making harmful assumptions that only cause more agony. If you don’t know how they feel and you need clarification on their remarks or behavior… ask.
Ask for clarification… don’t assume we know how others feel.
Second… so your family has made it very clear that they perceive you to be lazy, weak, faking it and any other number of inconsiderate, uncompassionate and hurtful things. Sadly, this happens often. More often than not, our family members are confused, uneducated, afraid and concerned. They see changes they don’t like and they are quick to blame us for their own insecurities. Is it fair or justified? Not at all. However, if what we really want (and completely deserve) from our loved ones is compassion then we must have compassion for ourselves and for them. This is a perfect time to have an open and respectful conversation where you provide them with information about your condition and the effect it has on your daily (and hourly) life. Two of my favorite articles to share are these: The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino and my own article The Spoon Theory for Generation Z (and everyone else).
Often, our family members need to understand what we are going through. Give them articles to read, invite them to your doctor and specialist appointments, talk to them about your symptoms and what helps to prevent or minimize them. Remember, your family member also needs to grieve the loss of who you were and accept who you are now.
Practice self-compassion and others will learn from you.
Third… there are too many situations where we have one or a few family members that just don’t (won’t) get it. For whatever reason they do not want to learn about your conditions, they dismiss your feelings and continue to berate and insult you. Although this situation is extremely painful and we do not want it to be this way… it is. We have a chronic condition. They are not showing us the compassion we deserve. Simple. Accept this for what it is. Is there no hope for resolution? That depends. Who do you want to change, them or you? I will tell you right now and any day you ask; you cannot change the thoughts and behaviors of another human being, not unless they want to accept and change. But, you absolutely can change you!
This is where you need to start and put your focus on. You can educate others but you can change how you feel and behave.
Have you fully accepted your new normal? Are you avoiding self-care because of guilt and perceived expectations? That is where you need to start. You are different now. You are not “less,” you are not useless, you are not lazy. You are different. You may not be able to be soccer mom/dad, world traveler, best employee, have the cleanest home, the best gardens, the perfect work attendance, and so on. That is OK. Accept your new normal because if you can’t, how do you expect anyone else to?
Are you still working yourself to the point of sheer agony and then bedridden for days? That’s a problem. Your family needs to see you practicing your own self-care and only doing what you can do. You need to pace yourself. Learn your limitations and live within them. Things will be different but can be completely wonderful.
Your new normal can be fabulous… just different.
If you put on a beautiful new shirt that brings out your eyes and you felt great, then someone told you they didn’t like your shirt, would you care? You shouldn’t care. That is their opinion. When our self-worth and esteem is at the mercy of the opinions of others, we will never feel good within ourselves. Everyone will always have a different opinion! We must create our own self-worth! When we feel good about who we are, we care a whole lot less about what others think. A whole lot less!
Often, the ignorant comments from our uncompassionate family members hurt because they trigger how we really feel inside. We feel lazy when there are chores to do and we cant do them. We feel useless when our kids need a ride and we can’t drive and we hate ourselves when others want us to be a certain way and we can’t be. What if we loved ourselves for who we are and what we can and can’t do? Would we feel as hurt when our family members are insulting us? No, not as much.
When we take to heart every negative comment, we give others power over us. They then, can control our moods, self-worth, identity and how we live our lives. Why on earth would we want to live that way? We don’t… so choose not to. Take back your power. Do what you can do. Do your best. Practice self-care. Learn and devote yourself to self-compassion. Embrace your new normal and ask others to embrace it with you. Love yourself.
Learn to say “I am sorry for you that you feel that way,” “I understand that is how you feel” and “I am practicing self-care today.”
Finally, occasionally, we have a family member or members that hurts us deep, despite our respectful requests to understand and have compassion for, despite modeling self-compassion and owning your self-worth and against your continued avoidance of the power-struggle; they continue to lash out, belittle, insult and berate you. This is emotional abuse. They are toxic to our mental health. This is a relationship that may need to be dissolved. Not all toxic relationships need to be eliminated completely. There are some that healthy boundaries, less time together and professional therapy can help so that the relationship can remain intact but different.
However, if you are in a situation where you feel fear, suffocated, consistent misery or are being physically hurt or forced to do things you don’t want or can’t do… you need to leave. You need to seek out help and remove yourself from the relationship. No one deserves to be abused. No one. You may feel that being alone is too terrifying or because of your chronic illness, you need support and help; I guarantee that being alone and looking into services in your community, asking for help from non-toxic friends and learning to manage in a new normal is far better than feeling fear or being abused. What would you recommend for your favorite friend or your child if they were in that very same situation?
No one deserves to be abused. No one.
You can rise above the emotional pain of when your family thinks you are lazy and doesn’t understand your new normal. Read over this list, print it out for your family, do research but most of all… concentrate on loving yourself, embracing your new normal and not allowing the opinions of others to define who you are!
Getty photo by ARTQU