Helping or hurting? While raising my kids, I asked them that question as a way of getting them to think about how their words and/or actions affected the people or the situation around them. Repeating that question over time enhanced my own sensitivity to the possible impact on others from what I myself say and do.
As most of us are, I’m well aware that what I do affects others. But now, what I don’t do has a greater impact than what I do.
MS is a thief of abilities. The impact of MS and its symptoms causes lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of energy – not just for those with MS, but for those who care for them. Because my MS is progressive, the list of what I cannot do grows longer with time; and the impact on others grows as well.
Once in a position to help others, I now require help from others. MS has forced me from giving to taking, and that infringes on others’ time and freedom. Empathy, once a helpful character trait, now works against me. The sensitivity I feel toward others is especially strong when I consider how my inability affects the able people around me.
I did not choose to have MS. I did nothing to cause it, and there is not anything I can do to change it. I have no control over it. I could not stop it from happening, and I cannot stop it from progressing, Nevertheless, it is my MS, and I feel responsible for it. What results is guilt.
Guilt affects what I do and don’t do every day. When I see that something should be done but cannot do it, I must decide how necessary it is that it be done; then make a decision if it is important enough to infringe on someone else’s time. There is a frequent weighing of whether an act is more of a burden for someone else to do, or more of a burden for me to do without. My brain weighs need vs. want, convenience against imposition, personal preference vs. mutual benefit.
At this point in my life, the weight scale has tipped drastically on the taking side, and the answer to “helping or hurting?” leads to a growing cloud of guilt.
Not wanting to impose on others’ time or convenience, I hesitate to ask for help…waiting for a better time, which may or may not come. There are times I choose not to ask at all – guilt keeps me from requesting things I want, and sometimes prevents me from asking for what I need. Even when I am encouraged to ask, guilt makes it very difficult to do so.
Guilt comes in increasingly higher waves which erode more of my self worth each time one washes over me. As guilt becomes bigger, I become smaller. Keeping it from overtaking me is a struggle.
I know that others in my position struggle with the same thing, but that doesn’t make it easier. Those afflicted with illness are not alone in their feelings of guilt. Loved ones and caregivers may feel guilt too and a helplessness that they cannot fix us or make our pain go away; or they may feel guilt that they have able bodies while we experience limitations.
“Guilt is the rumbling strip in our lives.” -Unknown
Guilt is a positive thing when it keeps us from harm or trouble, or from causing harm to or trouble for others. Facing guilt requires humility and can overcome pride or selfishness. When it is not the result of intentional bad choices, but uncontrollable circumstances, guilt can be a heavy burden. It is an enemy I battle against.
Like anything negative, guilt can be replaced with something positive. I am trying to focus instead on growing my appreciation for those who help me. I am thankful for the people who do for me what I can no longer physically do for myself. I am also grateful for the givers in my life who listen to me, try to understand my condition and emotions, encourage me, and pray for me. I can, and do, appreciate all of them.
Read about other enemies in this blog’s category “Enemies”.