"My illness is my fault." "
" I caused my joint pain by texting too much."
" Maybe if I didn't eat so unhealthy, I wouldn't have fallen sick."
" I'm fatigued and in pain because I should have done better. "
Anybody who suffers from a chronic illness with no known cause, such as fibromyalgia, probably has these phrases of self-blame memorized. Research and science have failed us. They can't provide us with answers because of lack of time, lack of concern, strict regulations, misogyny in healthcare(this is a topic that deserves its own blog post, so we will get into it later), and a plethora of other excuses- some being valid, other not so much. And when people don't receive answers, they come up with their own. Thus, many patients end up blaming themselves. Trust me, I've been there.
I have been healthy and "normal" for more of my life than not. In fact, less than four years ago, my primary care physicians were praising me for taking such good care of my health and assuring me that I have nothing to worry about. Today, I have fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, hyperprolactinemia, anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, joint pain, a bunch of undiagnosed GI issues, and my endocrinologist is now exploring the idea of an adrenal tumor. I convinced myself this sudden shift was my fault.
I used to be an athlete, a tennis player specifically. As a kid, I hated soda and was not allowed to eat icing. Salad was, and actually still is, one of my favorite foods. I ate fruits when I had sugar cravings.I have eaten red meat less than 10 times in my entire life. I have never smoked or experimented with drugs or alcohol. I don't think I have ever missed a well check. I followed all the rules, yet I told myself I am still to blame.
Now that it has been a few years since the onset of my health issues and I am now a pre-med student in college, I see things more objectively. I have also learned that there are a lot of people with chronic illness who feel the same way as me, and nobody who has had to give up their health should feel this way. Every person battling chronic illness is- as we commonly say in our chronic illness community- a warrior, and no warrior is to blame for the battle they are fighting. Thus, I want to share some tips that have helped me take the blame off of myself.
The more you repeat to yourself that you are not to blame for your illness, the more you believe it. The more you expose yourself to an idea, the more likely it is to sink in, and you deserve to believe the truth. You should not mentally drain yourself with self-blame because medical research is behind. The next time you catch yourself having a flare-up or experiencing grueling fatigue, instead of reminiscing your healthy past and wondering what you did wrong, assure yourself it's not your fault and remind yourself that you are doing your best to manage your symptoms.
Counter negative thoughts. This is an activity I learned in therapy. Every time you have a negative or self-degrading thought, counter it. For example, a counter-statement to the thought, "maybe I wouldn't have joint pain if I had spent less time on my phone" is "No doctor has ever mentioned my phone being a plausible cause for my persistent joint pain" Oftentimes, you will notice that your self-blame is unreasonable and there is a lot of evidence against it.
Practice self-compassion exercises. This tip applies to anyone who is extremely critical of themselves. Practicing self-compassion inevitably helps reduce self-blame. One good website that explains the definition of self-compassion well and details numerous activities you can practice is self-compassion.org It was created by a psychology professor at my university and her activities have really helped me.
I hope these tips help and I hope you one day realize you are not to blame for your chronic illness. You are so bravely and inspiringly managing your symptoms- you do not deserve to feel responsible for your health issues. Sending you lots of love and lots of spoons!