Hey! I just want you to know that you are not at fault for your chronic illness.
I know. It might sound obvious, but when you’re living with a chronic condition, it can be all too easy to slip into a pattern of self-blame and guilt. We often ask ourselves questions like, “Did I do something to cause this?” or “Is there something wrong with me?” But here’s the thing: chronic illnesses are complex, multifaceted, and often downright mysterious. There’s rarely a single, identifiable cause, and it’s crucial to remember that you didn’t choose this path.
Why do we blame ourselves?
We live in a society that tends to oversimplify health and wellness. We’re bombarded with messages that tell us if we just eat the right foods, exercise enough, and manage our stress, we’ll be healthy and happy. And while there’s undoubtedly some truth to that, it’s far from the whole story. Our bodies are intricate and delicate systems, and sometimes, things go awry for reasons we can’t control.
Everybody experiences chronic illness differently. You and I could both have migraine. You might eat right, sleep right, take pills on time, exercise and still end up in the ER a couple of times a month, whereas I might be doing all the ‘wrong things’ and popping an Advil for the pain (not true but you get the point. At the end of it, you can relate when I talk about sensitivity, losing out on life, fatigue, insomnia, lack of focus, difficult in making decisions, and keeping our emotions in check. So you could be doing everything right, and still feel terrible.
What if there is a solution?
Something we don’t realize is that it can be oddly comforting to think that we have some control over our situation. If we can pinpoint something we did “wrong,” then maybe we can “fix” it and make the pain go away. But in reality, chronic illness doesn’t work that way. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch or following a one-size-fits-all formula.
It is human to want to find solutions for all problems but sometimes it is that very nature that creates more trouble. When anybody has a diagnosis, the focus turns to ‘I want to get better’. Chronic conditions don’t work that way. Sometimes pills work, and sometimes they don’t. Your body becomes resistant. Sometimes, it gets worse with time. Sometimes you need to live the rest of life on medication. Sometimes, you need surgery. Sometimes, you need to be hospitalized. Sometimes you need rehabilitation. Stop trying to ‘fix’ it, and start doing things that will eventually help you ‘live with it’.
I’m not saying that lifestyle choices and self-care aren’t essential parts of managing chronic illness. They absolutely are. But they’re not the whole story, and they’re definitely not something you should be using to beat yourself up. Remember that you’re doing the best you can with the cards you’ve been dealt, and that’s more than enough.
Self-blaming can be harmful
I talk about the mental health impact of chronic illness here on the website. It all starts with blame. We are born a certain way (genes and everything). Sometimes things just happen. You can change the color of your eyes with lenses and get surgery to stand taller, but there is only so much you can do to change who you really are (DNA-wise). If I have a gene that is triggered, there is very little I can do to ‘fix’ it. There is very little I can do to avoid ever triggering it.
Hear it from me again. You are not to blame. It is never something you did. This kind of pressure creates so much stress and eventually leads to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, which in turn flood your body with stress hormones and worsen the disease.
How to break free from the cycle of self-blame?
People could say a thousand things. They are not living with this condition. You are. You don’t have to avoid this or that, or do yoga, or try Tylenol, or do that thing that supposedly ‘cured’ someone else. It’s often societal pressure and conditioning that fuels self-blame. Here are some things that could help.
- Self-compassion can be a powerful tool. Be kind and gentle with yourself, acknowledging that you’re doing your best and that your illness is not your fault. Surround yourself with supportive people who understand your journey and can remind you of your strength and resilience.
- Give yourself permission to do whatever helps you. If that’s lying in bed all day, that’s fine. If that means you don’t wear pants, that’s fine. If you need to eat comfort food, that’s fine. If you need a bite of chocolate just to indulge a little, that is ok too. As long as you drink enough water, and eat something wholesome through the day, you are free to do whatever makes you feel comfortable.
- Learn as much as you can about your chronic illness and the various factors that might contribute to it. The more you understand the complexity of your condition, the less likely you are to fall into the trap of oversimplifying and blaming yourself.
- Consider talking to a therapist or joining a support group. Sometimes, simply sharing your feelings and experiences with others who’ve been there can be incredibly validating and healing. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone in your struggles, and that your feelings of guilt and self-blame are not unique.
When you shower yourself with self-love and self-compassion, your brain begins to focus on healing the body or giving the body enough strength to get through this. I’m saying it one more time, it is not your fault.