Letting People Down
As I’ve lived over two decades with multiple sclerosis, I’ve learned that it can cause me to experience an extremely wide range of emotions. From anger to sadness to guilt to even joy (on occasion), life with a chronic illness like MS is a never-ending roller coaster of different feelings. As I get older and need to depend on more people to survive, one of these emotions has really begun to prey on me. While guilt is a common feeling with MS, I’m specifically referring to how much I feel like I let people down. Friends, family, my roommate, my dog, and even myself. I consistently feel like I let them down, that I haven’t done enough for them, that I’ve failed at doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Fighting this feeling of guilt is a difficult and ongoing battle for me, one that I think many with MS will understand.
Feeling like I’m disappointing people
How are you letting people down? You have a chronic illness that limits so much of your life! Yeah, I know that, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like I let people down. Whenever I have to cancel plans (which is often) because my body suddenly isn’t working right, I, of course, feel like I am disappointing people.
I feel like I should be the one helping others
But it’s more than just not being able to show up. Pretty much anytime I need to rely on someone else, I feel like a disappointment, like I am letting them down. They in no way do anything to make me feel this way, it’s just how I am. I’m a man in his early 40’s as I write this; I will always feel like I should be the one helping others. Even simply being on disability and not working makes me feel like I am letting society down. Yes, I know I’ve paid taxes for it for many, many years, I know that I deserve it, that I’ve paid my dues, but like so many things when it comes to our emotions, logic goes right out the door. It’s not just about letting others down, I feel like I let myself down, too. I can be pretty hard on myself and create a lot of expectations which can often lead to a letdown.
This isn’t who I am
In a lot of ways, you could say that I was “brought up right,” something I’m very thankful to my parents for. With that, I tend to always try to put others first, to help others, to provide for others, to be the “go-to” person for anyone I can. While that can be great, it can certainly cause some inner turmoil when left in a position where I need to depend on others so much. Not being able to be that “go-to” guy messes with my head a bit sometimes, and whether I should legitimately feel this way or not doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’ve let everyone down.
Dealing with the guilt
Like so many of the things I write about, I don’t necessarily have all the answers. I deal with this issue constantly, as I imagine many people do. I’m a big believer in seeing a therapist or other mental health professional, even if it’s just to talk. As you might guess, this topic comes up a lot for me. Learning to not feel like you are letting people down is not an easy thing to get over. I am constantly trying to remind myself that it’s OK to have the issues I have. That I am not letting folks down, no matter how I may feel about it.
So much of my life with MS has been about learning to adapt, changing my mindset. One of my favorite quotes (that I’m sure I’ve used before) is from General Oliver P. Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War who said, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction.” That’s how I try to look at a lot of things with MS, I’m not giving up, I’m not letting people down, I’m attacking in a different direction by finding new and different ways to help people.
Changing my perspective
I can’t do everything I once would have done for people, but I can be someone they talk to, someone that listens to them (and so many people need that). You may have to rely on others more but you can certainly have them rely on you in other ways. It’s all about changing your perspective (but yes, I know, that isn’t always as easy as it sounds).
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