Do I Have to Feel
Guilty When I Feel Okay?
by Lisa Copen, Rest
When we ache, oh, how we ache! But when
we feel half-decent, then what? Do we sit at home and dread
the moment in which the pain returns? Or do we run out and
catch up on a bit of life and have some fun while the going is
During the last nine months I have started taking a new drug
and have had to go off of it on three occasions, due to an
infection. Each period of time I am off of it for at least a
month and the road back to feeling better is long and bumpy.
One week I am bending over getting laundry out of the dryer
without much difficulty. Three days later I can barely get out
of bed and walk across the room. It is a never-ending cycle of
feeling good, feeling bad, feeling some better, feeling much
worse, to feeling better again.
It's difficult for me to keep up with what is going on in my
own body, but a new challenge that I have discovered is
knowing what to share about my condition and with whom. Have
your chronically ill friends ever made you feel guilty because
you had a good day? Have your healthy friends began to be a
skeptical about your illness because they saw you do something
that a week earlier you said you couldn't do? We asked this
question to some of the people that visited our website and
they confirmed to me that I was alone not in this situation.
"The other day I told a friend that
I had decided to take a vacation this summer," explained
Tami. "She immediately came back with a response about
how she didn't think that I could sit in the car for that
long, and why did I think I needed a vacation when I couldn't
even hold down a part-time job. It really hurt and I didn't
quite know how to respond. I could see her point, but she
didn't know the whole story."
"I love to ride my bike," shared Samantha, "but
I don't do it very often because I pay the price the next few
days, if not more. Last week I decided that it was such a nice
spring day that I was going to ride around for a few blocks.
Of course, I saw my neighbor, who had a surprised look when I
rode by. When I went out to get the paper the next day, she
was in her yard and she said, 'So! When are you going back to
work? Looks like you have your energy back now!' I just
smiled. How could I explain that my walk to get the paper had
drained me of energy for hours?"
Why is it that we feel that we have to justify everything
little area of our life to those around us? Can a person with
a disability placard not drive a sports car? Can a woman who
has a chronic illness not have a child? Can a teenager who has
diabetes continue to play ball? Yes! But too often we get
trapped into feeling that we must prove that we are doing our
best - yet not too well. We must keep a positive attitude, but
not be fake about our joy. We must lean on our faith, but not
become too religious about the whole thing. We strive for a
life, but not one that is too much fun.
"The loss of group membership is a
fundamental change in the life of the chronically ill
individual," writes Dr. Douglas Wiegand, in Struck Down
But Not Destroyed. "Every role that you are expected to
fulfill must be rethought or renegotiated." It seems to
me, that as a chronically ill person we may lose group
membership from the "healthy" circle, but we gain
group membership in the circle of chronic illness. Oftentimes,
the support and encouragement that we find in this group helps
us keep perspective on things and give us the friendships that
we need to survive. However, when we do something that does
not conform to the membership requirements of the chronically
ill circle, our relationships with these new friends can be
Perhaps our chronically ill friends feel that the relationship
we have with them is now threatened. They risk losing us back
to the "world of the healthy," or at the very least,
we are denying that we want to be their friend, and be a part
of this "illness society." Our willingness and
desire to participate in an activity of the healthy is taken
personally by chronically ill friends as a sign that we are
denying them and all that they cannot do.
This makes sense: Do we not want to be healthy? Do we not want
to have a body that is not downtrodden with chronic illness?
Most of us would agree, yes! But we also accept reality and
the fact that this is out of our hands. So we accept our
membership into chronic illness, but we go back and vacation
now and then in little ways, with the healthy side. We don't
want people to take it personally. And we certainly don't want
to be accountable to our chronically ill friends about every
event we participate in. How do we get out of this cycle of
guilt and self-consciousness? Follow these steps:
Set Your Priorities Straight. We
will never be at peace if we are trying to please our friends.
Tell Yourself to Cease Comparing Yourself to Others.
You know what your best is for each and every day. If you feel
like having a cup of coffee that isn't decaf and (heaven
forbid!) a scone to accompany it, you really don't owe your
friend an explanation. You know your illness, your body, and
its limitations and it's up to you to be wise in what you
expose it to and shelter it from.
Examine Your Own Attitude. When a friend starts to feel
better and we are still in a great deal of pain, it can be
hard to rejoice with him or her. What do we say? How can we
act happy when we are wondering inside, "Why not
me?" As we share in the sufferings, so we should rejoice
Prepare Your Response When Others Question Your Health or
Illness. Be ready to respond when someone tells you
something that you would rather not hear, so that you can
respond with grace.
Serve Others in Small Ways When You Have the Strength.
So you feel a little better - now what? When you are feeling
better use a bit of that energy to make the difference for
someone else. Write a note of encouragement to someone who is
hurting. Call an old friend. Jump on the Rest Ministries
website bulletin board or pen pal area and encourage a total
stranger. You will feel better and you will be giving back.