A man lounges on a couch, talking at an open laptop near him. A therapist is on the other side of the screen, sitting in a chair, taking notes in front of an identical laptop.

Fighting Feelings of Failure

Last updated: October 2022

As I think about my life with multiple sclerosis, I like to think that I handle it well. I’m fairly motivated, I do what I have to do in order to manage my disease, and I know that it is in no way my fault that I have MS. Despite my best efforts, my disease progressed, and I am disabled. However, even though I’ve been forced from my career, I think I do a decent enough job of creating a nice little life for myself.

Dealing with emotions with MS

I know I’ve done the best I can with what I was given, but I still get tortured by the thought that I’m a failure.

Unfulfilled expectations

I know I’m not alone with these thoughts. This illness has a remarkable ability to break you down and to take from you. Maybe it’s taken your ability to work, or to walk, or to talk properly, or to make it to the bathroom before you wet yourself. Maybe it’s even worsened your relationships. There are so many ways the disease can negatively affect you. When MS begins to progress, you’re faced with an onslaught of losses, difficulties, and changes. Perhaps the worst thing MS does is that it shatters our expectations. Our life turns out far different than we expected. That includes long-term expectations, like having a career and family, as well as short-term expectations, like hoping to see friends later in the day but suddenly not feeling well enough to do so. It’s hard not to feel like a failure when all your plans, big or small, constantly get ruined.

Lack of control

It’s odd that we can feel like failures when so much is out of our control.  After all, if you are doing all you can to manage your disease and still have problems, it’s clearly not your fault. I think that’s one of the big reasons we feel like failures though. Shouldn’t I have more control? Shouldn’t I be able to change what’s happening to me? Sometimes I feel like I’m free-falling with no way to open my parachute. I then inevitably blame myself for not staying on the plane, despite the fact that I was pushed out of it. Knowing that something is beyond your control doesn’t stop you from questioning yourself and assigning blame to yourself. Deep down there is always that “I should have” or “I could have” feeling. I must have been able to do something different and since I didn’t, this is all my fault. I think we tend to believe we can control a lot more than we actually can; at least, I know I do.

Living with feelings of failure

Lack of control and not meeting our expectations can make us feel like failures. How do we deal with that though? Most of us logically understand that there was nothing we could have done to change what happened to us. That’s why these feelings of failure are so tough because they aren’t logical at all. It’s just our brain trying to further beat us up. A lot of times, I’ll get frustrated and literally talk out loud and tell myself to stop being ridiculous. That doesn’t really help me though.

Taking action on my emotions

I don’t really have a foolproof fix, though I do work on it in therapy and I do try to acknowledge the things that I can control. I think celebrating the small achievements of life, things that we can actually impact, are a great way of offsetting those feelings of failure. Maybe I got the laundry started (and just started, because I know I won’t be folding that stuff for at least a week), or maybe I woke up at the time I wanted or spent some quality time with my dog and made his life better. I think that adding up successes, no matter how small they may seem, helps me deal with feeling like a failure. I still have those moments where feelings of failure haunt me though, so if you experience that, know you aren’t alone.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share! As always, would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!


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