Tuesday, February 21, 2017


I have never felt guilty for being ill; yet, I see so many in my Gastroparesis support groups who struggle with this issue, and I cannot quite grasp why this is the case.  I can understand feeling frustrated or sad because of the limitations this illness places upon us, but guilt is another matter altogether.  Guilt implies that the person living with the illness is somehow culpable, responsible, or deserving of blame for the effects of said illness, and this is most certainly not the case.

Yes, our lives have been altered, perhaps forever, by this cruel, unforgiving disease.  Many of us can no longer perform routine chores, run errands, participate in the activities we once enjoyed, maintain employment, or reach once easily attainable goals we set for ourselves pre-diagnosis.  This is reality.  It is a consequence of our illness – but it not an act of the will.  In other words, we did not ask for our illness, we did not cause it, nor do we welcome it, embrace it, or seek to perpetuate it.  We did not fall ill because we are being punished for some wrong-doing in our past or because we are somehow so detestable that we “deserve” this disease.  Bad things happen; they just do.  They happen with no rhyme or reason and are the result of causes and forces that are often unknown to us.   

It stands to reason, then, that if we are not to blame for our illness and all the restrictions that accompany it, we should not feel any sense of guilt.  Yes, I realize that medical professionals, employers, family members, and friends sometimes behave as if it were our fault and do their best to cultivate our feelings of inadequacy and shame.  They expect us to behave exactly as we did prior to diagnosis, and they are most unforgiving of any perceived failures or shortcomings on our part.  But their opinions are not fact, and we do not have to believe these misguided notions. 

Hear me loud and clear, please:  YOU ARE NOT TO BLAME FOR YOUR ILLNESS!  You did not cause it, and you cannot wish it away, nor will it away, nor always regulate its adverse effects.  The limitations are real.  They exist.  They are not all in your mind, and they are not under your control.  You are not lazy or worthless or somehow “lesser” because you cannot meet some unreasonable standard of perfection set for you by the healthy people in your life.  Your illness will not go away if you ignore it, attempt to hide it, try harder, or pretend it does not exist. 

Now, I am not suggesting that those of us living with chronic illnesses such as Gastroparesis simply lie down, accept defeat, and stop striving to achieve.  I am not implying that we should give up on our dreams, our goals, our aspirations, or our hopes.  I am not endorsing an approach whereby we stay within our comfortable boundaries and never test the limits.  I do this every day.  I push myself beyond what is sometimes reasonable because I wish to remain independent, unfettered, and feel a sense of “normalcy” in my daily life.  It is good to push, I think – but it also necessary to recognize that your body and your mind can only be stretched so far before this behavior causes genuine harm. 

What I am suggesting is that you are sick, genuinely sick, and you are doing the best you can.  Give yourself some credit!  You are surviving despite your many hardships and challenges; despite the unkind words uttered and foolish beliefs held by those who have not lived a single day in your shoes and have no idea what you contend with; and despite the cruel physical, mental, and emotional toll your illness takes. 

You owe no apologies to anyone.  You are strong – fighters, warriors – and you should be proud.  Refuse to believe the lies that would keep you in the dark pit of despair and hopelessness.  See them for what they are – misguided, untrue, foolish notions that should be summarily dismissed and cast off.  Lose the guilt.  Stand up and speak up for yourselves.  You are valuable and worthy of respect just the way you are – limitations and all.

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