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

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.

Thanks for reading!

Devin

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Julie
    1 year ago

    The biggest problem I have right now is some people in my family trying to do everything for me. I get angry because it feels as if they are treating me like a child.

    I have told them over and over that I want them to let me do things when I’m having a good day and want to do these things as long as I’m able.

    There have been many blow-ups between us. I try to understand my mom just wants to help. I would jump in and try to help my daughter in any way I could. Then my daughter, I get it, she’s upset when she sees me struggle with simple things.

    I guess I shouldn’t get angry with them. I know of people who are alone and have no one to help them. I just want to be as independent as I can. I have learned over the past 18 years is that I have to appreciate the ones close to me and be thankful for their help, even if it can rub me wrong at times.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks Julie, I have experienced that often in my life as well. It doesn’t always work, but I do like to sit them down and explain why I want their actions to chance, sometimes I’ll even email and that seems to have a bit more effect. It’s tough though, and if I were in their spot, I imagine I might do it as well.

  • Dorry
    1 year ago

    Devin Thank You for being so transparent. You have expressed yourself in a way that many will identify with. I used Mental Health Services as a Client and then went on to give back 8yrs in Voluntary work. I do understand what you are saying and how illness can break down many a person and then their relationship/marriage. Illness does affect one’s self esteem and it is very hard to build this up. Counselling worked for me and gave me back my life. I related better and this helped my family relate better also. So Yes Mental Health is so important to maintain.
    I am old fashioned and never liked to see my husband do dishes. I felt it was my defined role. Then I went on to enter a man’s world, sanding wood, painting/decorating. I got so good at it. It is so hard to break the patterns and traditions of the past but it is do-able. So what you say is so true about how a man feels when his wife has to do the jobs he feels he should be doing. It is so painful and hard to get past. Our feelings do affect our relationships. Mind you doing men’s work my husband often wished I was a mechanic so he didn’t have to fix the car. But so glad I saw this as mostly a man’s world. Men are just so much clever at what they do as if they are wired to do it. You are a good writer and articulate in your description of MS and how it affects life and relationships. I fiercely guard my independence and I think this is normal. We each find our own way in the end. Your post will be healing to many people because they will identify with you. Thank You.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks so much Dorry, I appreciate that!

  • Azjackie
    1 year ago

    I completely agree. I’ve never been married. Engaged 6 times pre-MS, lived with my last boyfriend a few years. MS only with him. For me it’s totally independence not the illness.

    He’d want to cook dinner, wash dishes, or I’d hear the vacuum while in the shower. I’d get a twinge in my stomach and my muscles would tighten.

    For me letting anyone do anything for me is giving up my independence. I’ve always done for myself. I’m trying to change. Small steps.

    I wish all well.

  • OliviaJ
    1 year ago

    I hear you, Devin. I’m still married, but it makes me crazy that I can’t do what I once could. My husband says it is what it is, but I wish it weren’t.
    Cheers!

  • dhortho1
    1 year ago

    Devin,

    So may I ask why your marriage ended? Sounds like she was a pretty special lady.

    My friend with MS that had gone “dark” that I asked your advice about is still “dark” almost six months later. She didn’t even bother to respond to something as innocuous as simple Easter and Mother’s Day greetings. Very hurtful and I need to be done with it. Guess I’ll never understand the non-understandable.

    Be well, David

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi David, of course. I’ve actually written about that very topic (why my marriage ended) before, with my ex’s permission of course (we’re still great friends and much better as friends then married). Here is the link: https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/ruin-my-marriage/

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