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How I'm Learning to Forgive Myself for Struggling With Chronic Illness

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I sit there alone, locked in my own thoughts. Silently, I beat myself up for not being the man I think I should be. Daily, I look around, and I see myself (at least in my own mind) letting down those I love — my wife, my children, my family, my friends, even those at work. I am battling so many feelings, and I am so mad at myself for having this disease. I feel so guilty for putting my family through this — has anyone else ever felt this way?

These feelings were so unexpected when I first received my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease two years ago. As a 44-year-old man, this is not something I was expecting to deal with and was definitely not in my life’s plan. I expected feelings of sadness, anger, depression, but guilt? Why in the world would I feel guilty for developing Parkinson’s? I had not done anything to contract this disease, there was nothing I could have done to prevent it, so why in the world would I feel guilty? Even though I could not explain it, it was something I was still feeling.

One morning, I could not sleep (a frequent occurrence with me), so I went downstairs and started flipping around channels on the TV. I noticed a show that seemed interesting, so I decided to stop. Now, I know some of you will probably give me grief for this, but that show was Dr. Phil. Occasionally, I will stop and watch and see how he solves problems and helps others because many times, I find his insights and solutions fascinating.

Thinking back now, I could not even begin to tell you what that episode was about. As I sat there watching, Dr. Phil said one of the most profound things I have heard in a long time, and it was something I desperately needed to hear. He simply told his guest that he needed to forgive himself, that he was not responsible for this, and there is nothing that he could have done about this.

I just sat there, stunned. Tears began to well up in my eyes. “You need to forgive yourself.” This phrase kept echoing over and over again in my mind. I could not figure out why this struck me so hard. What do you mean I need to forgive myself? What is there to forgive? Do I need to forgive myself for Parkinson’s?

Then it hit me. Much of my struggle with this illness centered around the things I could not do as a husband or father. I felt guilty that my wife and kids were “stuck” with me. I felt guilty for the things I could not do. In this realization, I discovered how upset with myself I was. I was mad at myself for having this disease, and I was upset for not being able to overcome it. I felt guilty that my family had to deal with this, and thought how unfair it was to them.

As these thoughts dawned on me, the truth of Dr. Phil’s statement rang true. I was blaming myself for something I had almost no control over. In the process, I was just hurting myself and those around me and isolating myself from others.

Whether it is something we cannot control or mistakes we have made, many times, forgiving ourselves is one of the hardest things to do. We sit there, beating ourselves up for these circumstances, totally unaware of the anger and hurt towards ourselves we feel.

This guilt makes it harder for us to deal with the circumstances and also causes pain and hurt to spill out to those around us. Sometimes, the hardest thing we can do is forgive ourselves. When we forgive ourselves, we can truly begin the process of healing. We can start to move forward and deal with whatever it is we are facing. Instead of beating ourselves up, we begin the process of healing.

I had to realize that this disease was not my fault. I had to come to terms with the fact that I could do nothing to prevent it. I had to stop feeling guilty for the perceived “burden” I thought I was to my family. I had to let go of the thought that this was unfair to my wife and kids. I had to accept that this is where we are, and I had to forgive myself for having something I had no control over.

This mental battle is very real for men struggling with chronic illness. It can affect their mental health in many ways, and this struggle in the mind is often worse than the physical challenges men face on a daily basis. Most people surrounding these men will never see what truly is going on, and many men will never share because of the shame and discouragement they feel — and that should never be so.

Each of us has something we need to forgive ourselves for in our lives. Many times, we beat ourselves up for things we have done or for things out of our control, but either way, beating ourselves up will not change it. We must have the courage and strength to forgive ourselves and move forward. What is it for you? What are you carrying that you should not be carrying? Let go and forgive yourself and begin the process of healing and moving forward.

Charles Mickles, author, speaker, consultant. He has written, “Mine’s Parkinson’s, What’s Yours?” and “What Christmas Really Is All About?” You can follow his story at Day by Day.

Photo by Jacinto Diego on Unsplash

Originally published: June 21, 2021
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