Sometimes I find myself blaming all the problems in my life on my illnesses. However, there are things in my life that are just parts of life, parts of post-grad life, parts unrelated to my chronic illness, and yet complicated by it at the same time. But throwing all these problems into the bucket of Things I Can’t Change Because of My Illnesses isn’t always fair or responsible of me. I need to stop, think, and realize that there are some things I can change in my life, but I’m not because I attach undue blame on my illnesses.
Now, before I continue, I want to point out that although I sometimes use my illnesses to rationalize not changing or accepting certain things in my life, I’m never faking my symptoms. In this post, I’m talking about the blame I place on my illnesses for things unrelated to it. However, I’m not talking about pushing myself to do things to the point of being irresponsibly dangerous. Nope, those physical limits exist. Nor am I talking about disregarding the emotions and grief that sit alongside those physical limits. Disbelief of chronically ill people is real and harmful and needs to be fixed. So I’m not advocating for questioning illnesses. I’m advocating for taking a second look and not always using automatic thoughts to judge situations. Plus, this is just my perspective. Take what you want and leave the rest.
So let’s get back to it. An example of undue blame on my illness was feeling like healthy people didn’t understand me because I am chronically ill. But I’ve come to realize I had that feeling more so because I never let them in on what was happening than people not actually understanding me. You can’t expect people to know that which you do not communicate to them. Having chronically ill friends with more intimate knowledge of what I go through is necessary, but it doesn’t mean my healthy friends and family can’t also empathize with my situation.
And while I understand there are outside circumstances that prevent certain things from happening, I think that sometimes since I’m chronically ill, I forget that I do have power above my illnesses for certain things in my life. I have agency above the constraints of illness. Illness is not always the reason certain issues are prevalent in my life.
Yes, understanding this takes work. It’s harder. It’s humbling. It makes me realize that I am responsible for more than I thought I was. It makes me realize that I am not exempt from the basic human tendencies of everyone else. Just because I am chronically ill doesn’t mean I’m immune to non-sick human problems. Doing things that healthy people do will lead to similar consequences in some ways.
If I stay up late watching Netflix, I will be tired the next day. I may be more messed up the next day than a healthy person, but the fact of the matter was I didn’t get enough sleep. Or sometimes I realize I am taking a back seat in social situations because “of my illness,” I tell myself. No, I’m just not trying to be social. Or, it was like when I blamed my illness on feeling shitty the next morning after drinking (when I still drank). Uh, no hun, you’re just hungover. Or saying the reason I didn’t clean my room was because of my illness, when it was actually because I flat out didn’t want to. Or when I would be procrastinating on schoolwork, again I told myself, because of my illness, when in reality it was because I wanted to do other things.
I sometimes forget I am susceptible to the same foibles as the healthy. There are the basic tenants of health I need to abide by, like everyone else (eating healthy/enough, sleeping enough, drinking enough water, etc.).
But it’s not just actions either. It’s emotions. I used to think, “I am not happy in life because I am chronically ill” and “if I wasn’t chronically ill, I’d be happy.” And while this is such a loaded sentence and really differs in truth from person to person and illness to illness, I can honestly say I don’t believe it is true. I believe I can be happy and chronically ill and that my illness doesn’t have much to do with happiness, in fact. Much of what stands in the way of me being happy in life doesn’t relate to my illness. It relates to other things I’ve been working through.
So I’m not saying I should go out and push myself to the limit or stop accepting that my symptoms are very real and valid. Nor should I pretend my illness doesn’t make me unhappy at times. No, I’m saying just take another look, Melanie. Am I blaming my illness for some things that are true for most human beings? Am I not pushing myself outside my comfort zone because I’m just scared, or because I’m actually not feeling well?
It’s a hard line to delineate. It’s especially hard when people invalidate my true symptoms and then I second guess myself. But I want the world to know this: chronically ill people can be sick, and we can be lazy. We can be truthfully unwell and make bad decisions. And we’re not faking being ill. Buuuut, sometimes we get so tired of the mental battles that it becomes harder to distinguish between the chronic illness and the rest of it all (aka life). It becomes hard to tell the difference between the “I don’t want to because I don’t feel like it,” versus the “I don’t want to because I don’t feel well enough to do it.” And each are valid.
I’m learning that it’s okay to not do something because I don’t want to. I don’t need to pretend it has something to do with my illnesses. By realizing where the resistance for not doing something comes from, I can figure out if I should move past it and actually do what I’m resisting or if I can give myself a break and forget about it. Practicing this comes from a place of self-motivation because in the end, I’m just limiting myself if I keep attaching my illness to things it has no control over.
So, let me leave you with this. Yes, your illness is real and valid. And yes, there are things you cannot do because of it. But what things can you do that you’re blaming your illness for? What things is your mind holding you back from doing because you’re putting up a mental block? Take a gentle look in the mirror and see if you’re piling problems on your illness that it really has no part in causing. Be real. Be kind. Forgive yourself. Try and fail.
In my case, my illnesses already limit me; I don’t need my mind doing the same//