Expectations, Guilt, & Chronic Illness: What Being Single For a Year Taught Me

One of the most common issues that those with a chronic illness, like Multiple Sclerosis, encounter, is guilt. It could be feeling guilty because we cancel so much, or that we can’t be there for our children, or not being able to do common chores around the house. Guilt is a heavy feeling and it can have a dramatic impact on our health. I am finally starting to realize just how powerful an effect the constant feelings of guilt have had on my health. Hear me out - I’ve been single for over a year now, and as I look at my current life and reflect back to the days when I was married, I can see just how much worrying about “being the man of the house” had a huge effect on my health.

Great expectations

I’ve written a few times about how there are certain sociological expectations when you are in a relationship. Particularly when you enter the bond of marriage. These expectations can weigh on you. While some people believe things like “a man should take out the trash” and other antiquated gender-based role ideas, I know that basing such ideas on gender doesn’t always make sense and is more rooted in tradition than practicality. That doesn’t mean I didn’t occasionally succumb to that line of thinking though. When the society you are raised in values those ideals, it’s hard not to, no matter how enlighted you think you are. I know there are many men with MS that have a very hard time when they can’t be the one to go out and mow the lawn, just as there are many women with MS that struggle when they can’t, for example, make the family dinner.

Pressure from society

We struggle with that, not because we think a man or woman should be doing a particular thing, but because that’s a pressure that society puts on us, that what we see everywhere. Add to that societal influence, it’s what many of us saw our parents do. My dad always mowed the lawn (well, at least until I was old enough to push the mower), so when I can’t mow my own lawn, I struggle with that. My dad is awesome, and even at my age now, I still subconsciously default to wanting to be a little bit like him. My dad had certain roles as a provider, and no matter how educated I am, it’s hard to not let that influence me. When I finally got married, part of me really wanted to be as good of a husband as my dad, whether I realized that at the time or not. Whenever I couldn’t be that, it cut in to me, it hurt.

It’s hard to depend

Roles and particular chores aside, when I was married, I really struggled with the amount of help I ended up needing from my wife. She mowed the lawn, cooked dinner, and did so many things around the house. To her credit, she never once complained, or even seemed to think anything of it. All of it affected me more than her and I didn’t even realize it at the time (or I would have sought some help). I’ve written recently about how I have a hard time accepting help from people, when it came to my wife, it seemed even harder because I genuinely wanted to be the one helping her. The guilt of not being able to provide or even contribute around the house started to eat me up inside, which in turn, had an adverse effect on my health.

Rough on the body

As I’ve discussed before, stress and MS don’t mix well; the guilt I felt about not being able to help around the house was a stress that I really wasn’t aware of. It is only in retrospect, that I see how it affected me. Now that I’ve been single for a while, my health has improved some. I can walk better, think clearly more frequently, and I’ve even lost some weight. I admit, I am generally less fatigued as well. I’m sure there are some fun jokes about marriage that could be made here, but the reality is, that these were my own issues. I didn’t do a good enough job at the time realizing just how much of an effect something as seemingly inconsequential as my wife mowing the lawn had on me. We so often take our mental health for granted and don’t realize just how much of an effect it has on our physical health.

The importance of mental health

I tell my story here because I know a lot of people have pressures and guilt from feeling like they’re not meeting expectations. It could be with a spouse, or your children, or your parents, friends, even your pets. Constantly feeling guilty for not meeting expectations can be dangerous to your health, particularly, if you are like me, and don’t even realize it’s happening. So I want to end by again reminding everyone that our mental health is important and that seeing a mental health professional is every bit as important as seeing your neurologist, physical, occupational, or speech therapists.

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