When I first got married, I prided myself on being a “near-perfect” wife. I cooked, cleaned, did the laundry, practically everything a 1950’s housewife would do except greet my husband at the door with a martini. I was proud of myself for working full-time, completing graduate school and keeping my house in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, an unexpected visitor was about to ruin my trophy-wife reputation.
My diagnosis with fibromyalgia sent my world spiraling downward. Everything that gave me pride was suddenly taken from me. My full-time teaching job had to be reduced to part-time. My love of researching recipes and experimenting in the kitchen suddenly felt like an agonizing chore. Weeks went by without me cleaning my house, making me feel like a slob. And as the load of laundry grew, the more difficult it became for me to just simply throw it in the washing machine. My husband asked what he could do to help, and each time I objected because these were “my” responsibilities. However, I would soon give in and watch him do the things I once did for him with the feeling of guilt lodged in my throat. I was ashamed of the person fibromyalgia had made me.
I felt like a shell of a person and knew I needed to seek help. Sitting in a chair at the therapist’s office, I spilled my shame as I choked back tears. She flipped my negative thinking on me and asked me to think about how my chronic illness has positively impacted my life. I tried not to laugh at the question. How could something that has caused me so much pain and completely uprooted my life have a positive side? Knowing my therapist also lives a chronic condition, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and sat in thought instead of laughter.
It was then I realized that fibromyalgia had made my relationship with my husband more equal. We shared more of the chores and responsibilities than we ever had before. Pre-fibromyalgia, my husband would always ask what he could do to help, and I would shoo him away. But now I share what we have to do, and we divide and conquer together. Even better, my husband is always happy to help. I felt so much shame and guilt for not being able to do everything I used to do for my husband, but knowing it makes him feel happy and useful to help me takes away some of that pain. We now share a more equal partnership, which I am now very grateful to have.
Considering the shame and guilt you feel due to chronic illness and finding the positive may help to ease some of your emotional pain. It is not a simple task to find a positive in something so negative, but if you look hard enough, it will be there. Perhaps chronic illness has made you mentally stronger, or you now know how to stick up and advocate for yourself when dealing with an ignorant doctor, or maybe it has taught you to appreciate the little things like taking a shower or going for a walk outside. Dig deep and flip your guilt and shame on its head and try it on for a different view. What positives has chronic illness brought into your life?