Guest post from the lovely, Jen Wittman about being sick, the guilt that comes along with that and your thyroid.
How many times have you heard, “But, you’re always ‘sick’”? From your partner, your coworkers, or worst, your children.
It’s tough to hear, because there’s an undercurrent of accusation, like they’re accusing you of doing it on purpose, like they think you’re malingering or making it up. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking to hear.
The guilt that grows from that statement is like a sharpshooter pointed at your heart. It hurts. And, unfortunately, many of us with thyroid disease deal with guilt from disappointing family, friends and especially our kids way too often.
I remember how guilty I felt when I had to turn friends down time and time again for an evening out, or to go on a hike, or to go dancing. Eventually, they got so fed up with my lack of energy that the invites stopped coming. Thyroid disease, especially when undiagnosed, is an isolating beast.
And mommy guilt is just the worst. There’s nothing harder than seeing your child’s excited face wanting to share time with you or play with you when you can barely move yourself from the couch. Nothing breaks your heart more than a child who needs and wants you when you have so little energy to give.
When you can’t lift your body out of bed from the fatigue, when you feel so overwhelmed and panicked from anxiety, when you’re dealing with an assault from too many symptoms, it is impossible to give others what they need. It affects every part of your daily life from how you can contribute at work, at school, with your community and especially with your family and friends. It feels awful.
You feel alone.
What can be even worse is that sometimes you’ll have a string of really great days, where you feel like you might just be getting yourself back… And your friends and family notice it too… And then it just confuses everything when the following week you’re back to feeling awful and canceling plans or telling your kids you need a nap or that “mommy is sick” and can’t play… again.
When people don’t believe that you’re sick.
Part of the problem is that most of us aren’t very good at asking for help. Almost all of the clients I see for thyroid and autoimmune disease have very similar characteristics. (I am including myself in this group! And they may all not apply to you.)
- They are type-A people who put pressure on themselves to do it all.
- They are nurturers who take care of everyone else; often putting their own needs on the back burner.
- Most of them are self-admitted control freaks.
- Although type-A, they may really be shy, timid, or insecure. They worry about what others think of them.
- They tend to avoid conflict at all costs. They don’t feel safe or comfortable in arguments and feel easily overpowered by others.
- They often feel isolated from others, even family. They often feel that there are things they cannot share about themselves, such as their beliefs or life choices, and they have to hide who they really are because they want the love and approval of others.
- They tend to be Chatty Cathy’s and drain their energetic reserves when in contact with others.
- Because they have challenges in expressing themselves directly, they tend to feel angry or resentful towards others because they cannot confront them and they feel like they don’t have a voice.
Do you see yourself in any of those statements? It’s not a coincidence. We feel guilty because we desperately want to be the person in control, taking care of others, that others can rely on, but our condition makes that impossible.
The most important thing you can do to help yourself and your friends and family cope with your disease is to talk about it.
How many of you just felt a cold chill go down your back?
It’s true that most of us would rather show up to work in our underwear than talk about our disease, but it’s the one thing that will help people understand, and combat some of the most common misconceptions about thyroid disease.
I polled my TLC community before my book, The TLC Partner’s Guide to Thyroid & Autoimmune Disease, and these are some of the things that well-meaning people in their lives have told them:
- I have been told that “you need to just push through.” I need them to realize that every day I am out of bed, I HAVE pushed through. –C
- I truly wish they would understand that it is a medical disorder not just in my head. I hurt every day, have fatigue, can’t sleep, am gaining weight, sore throat all of the time, cold/allergies everyday, swelling, and so much more. I am a very hyper person that could multitask like wonderwoman; now I am lucky to vacuum the house without having to lay down. –M
- I would like it if my significant other believed I actually have a chronic autoimmune illness, not hypochondria. –A
- Ugh…I wish they wouldn’t tell me it’s easily fixed so get over it! –J
- It amazes when well-meaning people just can’t believe that ALL of my symptoms are related to thyroid. Without ever really reading about or researching Hashimoto’s, they want to suggest all these other ailments that they just heard about on TV news. –B
- They think my anxiety is a choice. I can be cool as a cucumber and my insides feel like they’re shaking. It leaves me frustrated. –H
So how do you combat these misconceptions? How do you overcome those people who think you’re making it up or just looking for attention? How do you get past the massive guilt you feel that you can’t live up to expectations?
It all starts with you!
5 steps to dealing with Thyroid Guilt
- Define the source of your guilt. Guilt is fear at its root, so what are you afraid of? Are you afraid that you’re not pulling your weight at home or at work? That you’re not a good parent? That you’re not a good friend? Try journaling as a way to examine these feelings and where they’re coming from. If you start writing a lot of “should” statements (I should be able to clean the house. I should be more involved with my kids.) remember that “should” is somebody else talking! (My dear friend Rory Green gives some amazing journaling suggestions for dealing with your inner critic in the Your BEST Thyroid Life program — see the details below.)
- Forgive yourself. Once you’ve identified your fears, ask yourself, are they founded? Are they logical? My guess is that they’re not. You have a disease, a medical condition. It’s important not to blame yourself for that! Or for the “symptoms” of having that disease, like not being the “perfect” mom, partner, or friend.
- Stop the negative self-talk. You can only truly forgive yourself when you’re not actively blaming and putting yourself down. Pay attention to the voices inside your head. What are you saying to yourself? Take some time to write down the negative things you tell yourself. Would you say any of those things to your best friend? Your partner? Your child? If the answer is no, then why on earth is it OK to say them to yourself? (Here’s a hint: IT’S NOT!) Make a commitment to try to recognize and stop the negative self-talk.
- Take action to heal. Healing your thyroid is a choice. You didn’t choose to be sick, but you can choose to get well. The catch is that you have to make the commitment to take action and actually take the steps necessary to heal. January is Thyroid Disease Awareness Month, so why not extend that awareness to your own health? Make 2015 the year you get your life back from thyroid disease; when you’re ready to commit, check out my Thyroid Fix in 6 program, which provides the framework and all the tools you need to heal.
- Be open about your experience. As I said, January is Thyroid Disease Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to make a commitment to also be open with your family and friends about your experience with the disease. Discuss what the disease is, how it feels physically, how their comments have made you feel, what steps you’re taking to get better so you can be more present as a friend, mother, professional, etc., and what support you need from that person so you can have the time and resources to heal. Ask that they accept where you are and what you’re going through and that they are compassionate as you work to get better.
These are just a few practical strategies to get you through the guilt phase and into a more productive phase of healing with your thyroid disease. If you’re ready for more practical tips and strategies like these — including how to journal away your inner critic, and how to open up to friends and family about your needs — I hope you’ll join me for Your BEST Thyroid Life: a free interview series with more than two-dozen world-renowned experts on thyroid disease offering up their best strategies for living YOUR best life.