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The Blame Game: Yourself

Having a chronic illness like Multiple Sclerosis can seem extremely unfair. For many fighting this disease, there is a natural tendency to want to assign blame. I think we’ve probably all done it at some point. I know I sure have. Like many people who live with a disease like this, one of my primary targets when assigning blame is none other than myself. What did I do wrong? How did I cause this? I must deserve it. Even though I know better, I still find myself guilty of this. Which is why I’m here to remind both you and me, that when it comes to the blame game, you can’t look at yourself.

Was I unhealthy?

It’s easy to think back and try to figure out why this happened to us. One common train of thought for people is wondering if they weren’t being healthy enough, maybe not taking good enough care of their body. This isn’t one I worry about (I was in the best shape of my life when I was diagnosed), but it is extremely common among people that I talk to about this issue. Many people worry that they did something that caused MS, or rather, they didn’t do something to prevent it. Maybe if they’d exercised more or taken a different vitamin, then maybe they would never have gotten this disease. If you were extremely reckless with your body, like smoking, or were otherwise extremely unhealthy, perhaps then you’d have some traction in this argument. Even still, there are plenty of people that are in perfect health that eventually get diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. So chances are, you didn’t do anything to cause this and you couldn’t have done anything to prevent it. So stop blaming yourself.

Do I deserve this?

This is the line of thinking that always keeps me up at night. Should I blame myself because I somehow deserve to have this disease? The odd thing for me, is that I don’t believe in a god or any higher power. So, while many people will ask this question of themselves and feel like they’ve been stricken down because of their actions, I tend to start thinking that my actions didn’t cause it, but now that it’s randomly happened, maybe it’s fitting. Whether you think a higher power did this to you or you simply think you deserve it, you need to stop doing this. No good can come from that line of thinking. While having MS feels like you are being punished, that’s simply not the case. Nothing you did caused this, and most likely, nothing you did deserves this.

Harmful focus

Wanting to assign blame seems natural; researchers are still searching for answers when it comes to the cause of MS, so we have nothing to point to. I get it, many people have anger about their disease and need somewhere to focus it. That can be especially damaging if you focus that anger on yourself. To fight this disease, you need to have your head in the game. If you are angry and blaming yourself, you’re apt to not take care of yourself correctly. Maybe you stop your disease-modifying drug or skip your rehab appointments because you think you deserve it. Those kind of actions will worsen your disease (and then you actually can blame yourself). Pent up anger about your disease can be harmful. It’s a big reason why people who are diagnosed with a chronic illness should absolutely talk to a professional therapist. Seek out a mental health professional and discuss your feelings before they cause you harm. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is traumatic and should be treated as such from a mental health perspective.

A word about friends and family

Everything I’ve said here goes for the friends and family of those with MS as well. I know many a parent and sibling who blame themselves for their loved one’s disease. That’s just as foolish as anyone with the disease blaming themselves. It’s not your fault, it’s no one’s fault. Friends and family with a loved one who has been diagnosed should also consider talking to someone with experience in this area. Survivor’s guilt is a very real issue and one that should be explored with a mental health professional. Always remember, it’s not your fault either.

Thanks for reading!


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  • Artanis12
    8 months ago

    I can only speak about US culture, but for us, we are addicted to 3 things: the illusion of control, denial, and blame. Americans in particular are all about the idea of being perfect steerers of our fates. From the attractive but silly idea that a person can perfectly control all aspects of life, flows denial that random bad things happen, and blame – self-blame and blame from others, when they do.

    For instance, when I was 40, out of the blue, I had bladder cancer. I was too young, the wrong gender, no risk factors it seemed, and no family history. It was a big ‘ol WTF. Do you know the very FIRST thing to go through my mind? Yep: What did I DO wrong. Because I should have control, and when the evidence says I don’t, I HAVE to bring it back around to ME by blaming me for not exerting enough control. Because even if we can’t articulate it, we all imbibe on some level, the idea – hammered into us in myriad ways – that if we just DO everything we “should”, (don’t drink, don’t smoke, eat nothing but organic food grown in Shangri-la-like grottos in Patagonia, avoid stress, meditate, etc ad nauseam) that we will get a pass on all bad things happening to us.

    So we blame ourselves. But here’s an additional kicker: others get to blame us too, because blaming others for their conditions is how the still-healthy deflect the uncomfortable mirror we hold up to them (when they bother to see us) that hey, this could happen to YOU too. So they assume, at least a little bit, (just as we may have when we were healthy, if we’re honest), that the person with MS with the cane or in the wheelchair, DID something wrong to bring on that state. For some our mere presence creates serious mental discomfort. IMO, it’s why there are those (and alas, we’ve all met them) who feel almost compelled to come up to us, unasked and unwelcome, to spout nonsense about how it we’d only DO (insert dietary regimen or invasive procedure of choice), we’d be cured. They don’t actually give a rat’s patootie about us being cured (because if they did it would look and sound very different), it’s all about them, and they’re just pushing back as hard as they can against what our mere existence within their sphere of notice, is making them see.

    Individually, we who have still-mysterious chronic diseases, need to ditch the self-blame, that’s certain. It’s a massive waste of time, and makes everything about our condition, that much worse. But culturally we also really need to ditch the addiction to blame. It’s corrosive on all levels.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thank you @Artanis12, really appreciate you taking the time to chime in! We definitely have a culture of blame in the US!

  • Clarissa
    8 months ago

    Hi Devin,

    I found this article ( particularly helpful for understanding the possible genesis of my own MS, rather than blaming myself per se. The paragraph that really spoke to me:
    “In the 20 years since, scientists have built on the research, replicating the findings and digging into the “why.” In the simplest terms, traumatic events trigger surges in cortisol, the “stress” hormone. When those surges go unchecked for sustained periods, they can disrupt a child’s brain development, damage the cardiovascular system and cause chronic inflammation that messes with the body’s immune system.”

    So if you had a lot of stress/trauma in your early childhood, this may make you more susceptible to auto-immune diseases like MS. As kids, we have so little control over our situation/environment, and yet we can suffer lasting effects from them.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thank you for sharing @Clarissa, while that’s very interesting, in my own case, I had no significant childhood trauma. My youth was pretty great and healthy actually. It wasn’t until after a bout of meningitis in college that MS hit me.

  • Dimitri
    8 months ago

    Great post.

    I don’t blame myself or think that I deserved MS, but I criticize myself for brushing off symptoms for years. I think about how much time I wasted suffering in silence while IF I was more assertive I could have been diagnosed sooner, could have been put on DMT drugs sooner, thereby reducing the amount of brain I have already lost and reducing the amount of disability I have incurred.

    I saw the news interview you did for MS Awareness Month.
    Good job.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thanks so much @Dimitri!

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