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Feeling Chronically Guilty for Being Unable to Care for Others

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There’s a lot of guilt associated with being chronically ill. My house is chronically in need of cleaning, my dishes are chronically dirty, my laundry is chronically piled on the family room sofa and my husband is chronically alone. As ME/CFS and fibromyalgia steal my strength – and leave me in pain that steals my breath, as well as my resolve – my world shrinks around me.

Feeling guilty about not being able to take part in family activities, or not being able to take care of your family, the way a good wife and mother should, becomes a constant shadow – one that looms darker when you try to push through.

guilt is a thing borne by those who fail to meet their own expectations in caring for others, and rarely by those who have intentionally wronged us

It’s perhaps hardest for family and friends to grasp the concepts of delayed consequences and compounded symptoms. If I decide to go out to lunch with my sister, for instance, not only will I have increased pain that night, but I am very likely to be pounded with bone-crushing fatigue, pain much greater than usual and even such symptoms as nausea, irregular heart beat and brain fog, which persist for days or even weeks afterward. Considering that all I did was sit in a booth and eat a sandwich, I always have to consider whether the activity will be worth it.


The truth is, I haven’t even attended church for months, and even then it was only partial meetings. Not only do I feel isolated – not being able to work, not having friends and missing out on the activities – but I feel guilt for not being able to hold up my part of life’s bargain. By that I mean not being able to take care of other people, not sharing the burdens of planning and executing group activities and not being there enough for others.

I have tried to consider this as if from the outside looking in. Would I judge someone negatively, or want her to feel bad about saving herself that extra bit of misery? Of course not. I’ve started telling myself, “I’m not going to apologize for the things I can’t do,” though this usually comes to mind right after having done so.

This view is going to be a work in progress – possibly for quite a while. After all, it’s not our nature to cut ourselves the breaks we practically stumble all over ourselves to give others. Perhaps it will help to know you’re not alone.

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Originally published: June 2, 2017
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