The Mighty Logo

To Those With Chronic Illness Who are Tired of Apologizing

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

To those who are tired of apologizing,

I see you.

In an environment where my sole focus was the safety and well-being of my parents, I learned from a very young age that I needed to do everything in order to prevent a catastrophe. This created a great deal of anxiety and a deep need to be perfect, or rather, present myself as such. I walked as if I was saying to the world: “I can handle everything! Place all your expectations and burdens on me.” I became proficient at pretending I was “Super Woman” — do not get me wrong though, I found no power in this paralysis, nor ego from the success of fooling others. It is an exhausting and isolating experience; to be afraid of every move I made, fearing something terrible would happen at any moment, especially if it affected someone else or had the possibility of upsetting them.

This people-pleasing evolved into a completely different beast as I developed
chronic illness.

At first I tried to hide it from everyone, suffering silently within the walls of my home. Only my husband was aware of how much I went through, and even that was too much for me. I felt like a burden, unworthy of the time and care he put into helping me navigate something I had never experienced before. Why would I place that burden upon anyone else?

Little by little though, I would share surgical updates or explain to a friend I had to cancel plans that day due to chronic fatigue or a flare in symptoms from
another illness. It was semi-well received in the beginning, but the less and
less I was able to give to others, the more backlash I faced. And goodness
forbid if I had to cancel plans with someone one day and then post myself at a
family lunch the next day. I was perceived to be a liar or that I enjoyed using
my illnesses as a crutch, so I retreated back into myself. My mind told me I
was right the first time around, people were obviously not going to be happy
with me unless I pretended everything was fine and pushed myself well past my physical and mental abilities — and at the time, that’s really all that
mattered to me. But once it started to affect my ability to give my good days
to myself and my family, I was sick of it. I finally realized, people could
either love and support me or they could get out of my life. If I had someone
in my life who took issue with me choosing to take my child to the park on a
good day over running errands for them, well, they should have never been given the opportunity of my friendship to begin with.

I had completely missed the point that I needed to validate myself and set boundaries to protect that. I no longer had to stay in survival mode and punish myself for my existence by allowing others to strike at me when I made them unhappy. Their opinion would not cause an apocalyptic end to me or those I loved, and everything was going to be OK.

The other point is — no one truly sees what goes on behind closed doors or could possibly understand every doctor’s appointment. Not everyone can sit with you in the ICU, tears streaming down your face in fear of death, and finally understand what it is like to be in a body that is not controlled by them – and that’s OK. You have the power to choose who you want to be in your circle. You have the right to say, this relationship is no longer healthy for me. And there is no shame in how you choose to spend a better day. The lack of someone else’s desire to learn and understand you is not your responsibility nor a reflection of you as a person.

You have value and you do not need to explain nor apologize unless you see fit.

I hope you see yourself as a fantastic being with a unique ability to overcome the worst that life can throw at us. Who sees the world differently, with more heart and compassion. And I hope, that compassion extends to yourself, no matter how those around you choose to behave. I hope you enjoy the blessing of a beautiful day when one is given to you, without fear of judgement. Take those selfies, post the words of happiness bursting from your heart, and soak in every moment of being free from whatever is plaguing you right now.

You have the power to be authentically and unapologetically, you.

I found my people when I let go, my tribe. And you will too.

Photo credit: fcscafeine/Getty Images

Originally published: August 8, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home