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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.

Adapting

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).

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!

Devin

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Comments

  • Maggie3
    1 week ago

    Thank you Devin. You have given me an idea I can use when with my son-in-law who has MS in advanced stages. I read these blogs because they help me sit for a while “in the wheelchair” as a family person who sees what a demanding illness MS is knowing there isn’t anything I can do about “it”…but I can listen and honor your journey and his.

  • asapcynthia
    1 week ago

    Hello Devin more food for thought. This will take what you said and turn it’s on it’s head. It’s the old mother’s lament. I try, and I try, to make you people happy for years, now it’s my turn, and where’d you go? Is it wrong to feel defeated by it all? My lament is different. If you know I’m gonna screw it up why did you involve me in the first place? Quit asking, it’s not going to get any better, you know. I actually said that to my husband- you know, it’s ms, it’s not going to get any better, and that’s after 25 years. Part of me just wants to chuck it all and run(crawl, creep) for the border. I refuse to think this is all there is. My daughter asked me the other day what was wrong, and my answer was nothing that putting an m80 in someone’s mailbox won’t cure. Sometimes I do think people ignore me, and it’s my fault for not demanding my due and forcing people to deal with me, and I just want to blow something up to prove I’m still here. I probably just flagged myself on the FBI homeland security front. Never underestimate an old lady with a chronic illness and too much time on her hands. Just saying.

  • chong61
    1 week ago

    Devin,
    I know the feeling. I am 77 and have to depend on my children so much. A mother is suppose to take care of her children even if they are in their 50’s. Like the day I fell and split the back of my head, I was ashamed of myself for going outside and taking that risk, so I foolishly got in my car with towels soaking up the blood and drove myself to the ER.

    I suppose that was stupid of me since I don’t drive anymore. My kids all got furious with me and I suppose rightly so. But you and our other members know how it is to walk a mile in our shoes. They don’t, thank goodness. I would not wish this disease on my enemy (if I had one.)

    I hate having to ask for their help, but I helped them when I was younger, but that does not count. It was my job.

    I for sure will not be walking with a cane around my back yard anymore. Just one more thing this ugly disease has taken from me. No, I don’t feel sorry for myself, but it would be very easy too.

    Arvilla

  • Junaej
    1 week ago

    I feel the same lately because MS has gotten worse since August 2018 I have let so many down including myself.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    1 week ago

    So sorry to hear that @Junaej, it can be incredibly sad, but that’s when we have to work a tad harder to rethink things, to change our perspective.

  • arthur verow
    2 weeks ago

    Appreciate your perspective.
    I’m 77 now and swim for exercise.
    I recommend this.

  • Janus Galante moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Hi arthur,
    thank you for commenting on Devin’s article.
    I think that’s wonderful that you’re swimming. What a great form of exercise that is!
    All the best, Janus

  • markt
    2 weeks ago

    Devin
    If I had the talent of putting things to words this is something I would have written
    you are just so right about all of it

    and
    Advancing in a different direction
    we need to make that a t-shirt or bumper sticker

    thanks
    again

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Thanks so much @markt!

  • Lily
    2 weeks ago

    Yes, I completely understand. We are our own worst critic.
    I like to post positive affirmations on my bathroom mirror. I see them and they give me that little bit of a boost.
    I just started to learn to play piano. At my age, learning anything new is a challenge, but I like to keep learning new things.
    My music therapist, for the second time, in just a few months, told me I complain a lot. This sent a shock to my system! What was I saying? What was I saying to myself?
    I found my latest affirmation, and taped it to my music stand. It reads:
    “Go easy on yourself. You’re doing the best you can.”

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