Friday, March 11, 2011

Guilt and Gratitude

It is very easy to feel the pain of guilt when one is stricken by a chronic digestive motility disease or disorder. Even though in reality, we did not cause our illness, many patients can see the domino effect it has on so many other people’s lives. Just take a glimpse at the worried look on a loved one’s face, the fear that is deeply embedded in the heart of spouse, parent, aunt, uncle, sibling, grandparent, other relative, or dear friend, the hidden, but silently understood alertness and inner anxiety, as they see the patient go through the suffering that can accompany life with chronic disease. Disappointment, anger, frustration, and sadness are just some of the emotions that not only the patient experiences, but loved ones and friends can go through as well.
When the symptoms of digestive motility disease first raided my life, I could see the enormous effect my failing health was having on my family. The eagerness to help, laced with the terror and worry of seeing their once happy and healthy child, sister, and spouse, slowly disappear into a sickly, frail, shell of a person that they once knew was so much to bear. Trying to maintain some sort of normalcy, as our worlds were crumbling before us, was difficult to say the least. The feelings of helplessness laced with hope were all that they clung to. Not only did my life change at that moment when I became ill, but theirs also changed forever. In my struggle to find out what was wrong with me, the many doctors, the many years, and the many misdiagnoses, I was compelled to try to make life easier for my family and through that, I gained strength. Even today, there continues to be that underlying fear, anxiety and alertness that my family carries with them as my health aggressively deteriorates. But, their feelings are mostly silently understood. One can tell by their voice, by their look, or by their actions that their concern is ever present and they too are living on a time bomb waiting protectively for my next health crisis.
My husband is concerned to leave me for even a moment. It is difficult for him to have to go to a social function without me by his side. Because of my health, our dreams and plans have changed course. We live our lives in the balance of faith and pain. Because of my health, financial problems have resulted. Because of my health, we have missed out on social events, family functions, travel, and many other things that so called “normal” people experience. It is easy to stay in the pool of self-guilt when one sees all the changes, losses, emotions, and adaptations that patients and their loved ones must make.
After over 32 years of living with digestive motility disease as well as a myriad of other serious illnesses, I allow myself only a brief moment of self-guilt. Usually, these are sparked when the symptoms are exacerbated or when there is a health crisis, or an observation of someone making a sacrifice on my behalf because of my health. But, then I think about all the Blessings in my life and there truly are an abundance. How blessed I am to have such a loving family, husband, friends, and extended family of the Association of Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders, Inc. (AGMD). How blessed I am that they care so much, that they are willing to sacrifice so much of themselves … of their lives … for me. And I know that if the tables were turned, and one of them became ill, I would do the same thing for them.
The next time feelings of guilt enter your mind like bullets in your heart, think about the people and things that are in your life that you are most grateful for, and know that by your experiences with ill health, you are also making a good impact. Look beyond yourself; don’t miss out on the big and little things in life, and the preciousness of life itself. Reach out to others, make a difference, make an impact, and make the most of the life you have been given. Moments of guilt can be transformed into moments of Blessed gratitude.