Guilt is an emotion I struggle with daily – guilt for having to say “no,” guilt for trying to avoiding phone calls from relatives who just don’t understand I’m having a bad day, and even guilt for taking time for myself.
At times, guilt can be all-consuming for me. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been dealing with guilt in one or another my whole life, even before being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Luckily, I’ve learned to accept this nagging emotion and deal with it better. I’m not perfect, but I am getting better over time.
Count me in! Ugh, maybe not.
If relatives ask for help, I’m one of the first to respond. Sometimes, this is before I even consider my own limitations for the day. Excited to be the go-to person, I immediately say, “Yes! Count me in!” when I should really be saying, “I would love to help, but let me see how my body is feeling closer to the date.” After all, even I don’t know how active my disease is going to be from one hour to the next, let alone a week in advance.
Now, I’m in a predicament. I’m in pain, I’m super stiff, and the couch has been my home for the past few hours. Yet, I committed to helping my aunt clean her cupboards. So, I have two options: Get in the car and go, or get on the phone and cancel. Either way, I get guilt. Guilt for not telling my aunt how I really feel and assuming she doesn’t care (which I know she does – but, wow, that internal conversation you have with yourself is pretty loud…), or guilt for saying no to the person I love. It’s a no-win situation for me.
But, actually, there is a third option: Explain how I really want to help but that today is just not a good day. Ask to postpone the cleaning until later in the week. I will have to be prepared for the pity that follows, which sometimes is worse than the guilt. Still… I’ll take Door Number 3, please.
Please, don’t give me those eyes
It’s hard enough to say “no” to my six-year-old niece on good disease day, but when you’re fielding a flare, and she asks you to play with her in the snow, I’m secretly telling myself, “Don’t give me those eyes. Don’t do it. Don’t…” Oh, she did it. How do you say no to that? And when she follows it up with, “I love you, Aunt Jaime,” I cave. I know I will pay the price later when I can’t move, but it’s sweetness overload that I just can’t escape.
Luckily (or not luckily because I love my niece and nephews so much), I don’t see her all that often. I’ve learned to rest my body in advance and tell her when I see her that I only have 10 minutes to spend playing today. That way, if I don’t feel well, I’m not committing to too much. And to be honest, she likes snuggling with me and reading a book just as much as running around. So, yeah, I’ll do a preemptive strike and reward myself with extra snuggles and less guilt.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I can’t be any good to my family and friends – mentally or physically – if I don’t take some time for myself. This is usually in the form of physical exercise, as that seems to be the best stress relief for me. (Side note: Stress is my biggest trigger for flares, so I definitely need some physical exercise each day.)
The problem with me-time is that it sometimes gets squeezed out of the day. It’s easy to put everyone else first and me second. But I know in the long run, this doesn’t work well for anyone. You know the Snickers candy bar commercial where the group tells its friend to eat a Snickers because he’s just not himself when he’s hungry? Yeah, that’s me, but with stress and no me-time.
And then, well, guilt again for acting like this in the first place with my family.
So, guilty if I say no to my family and guilty if I turn into a cranky monster because I didn’t take me-time. Sigh…
While I’ve worked hard to actually schedule an hour of exercise and me-time into my day, it doesn’t always work out. Plans change, weather doesn’t cooperate, or I’m just not moving well.
Time for Plan B: five-minute mental me-time breaks. This can be anything from watching the sunrise or set, reading jokes of the day, indulging in a quiet cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles, to even finding one relaxing yoga pose and clearing my mind.
Guilt is hard, but I have worked to overcome it. It’s not easy and it is a very strong emotion, but I’ve learned that I’m no good to the rest of my family and friends if I carry around this heavy load of emotion.