It's all too easy, and in fact may be human nature for those of us living with chronic illnesses to want to find someone or something to blame. The religious may blame god, or sin, or the devil/demons. But we all try to find something to blame. It could be our doctors, or “big pharma”, or the government and any of the many conspiracies put on blast over and over. We might even blame ourselves.
If I had taken better care of myself when I was younger.
If I hadn't smoked in my 20s.
If I hadn't put off going to the doctor.
But the problem here is that blame is largely ineffective. Some of those things may even be true, but placing the blame accomplishes nothing but negatives. By and large, even if you did contribute to your health problems in some way, most of the chronic illness problems we face are a healthy mixture of genetics meets luck.
So what happens when we get stuck in a loop of blame, trying to pin all our troubles on to someone or some thing? Well in my personal experience with this, a few things happen.
- You procrastinate taking real and important actions to benefit yourself. You focus on the thing or things that you hold responsible for your misfortune and put yourself in a mindset that breeds a false hope – that if you could hold this person or thing responsible, your issues might go away. This is, obviously, not the case at all.
- You flood yourself with anger, frustration, and other negative emotions. Our emotional state affects our physical one, and that flood can and will lead to exacerbated symptoms.
- You avoid doing the one thing that can help you move forward: accepting the situation at face value, and knowing that while you can't change that it happened this way, you CAN change plenty else.
Because we aren't powerless. Every illness comes with varying levels of energy, livability, and hope for cure or remission, but there is always something to be done. Whether it be fighting for future generations, or focusing on our own bucket lists, or searching tirelessly for the right treatment, or just trying to make it to the next happy moment…there's always something we can work on for ourselves.
Recently, I fell victim to the blame mentality. I'm still struggling, which is why I write this out now. When I was in college, around 2007, I started experiencing irregular heart beats, chest pains, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations that were extremely terrifying. When I attempted to find out what was happening I was told by everyone from my mother to ER physicians to my regular doctor that what I was experiencing was anxiety/panic attacks. They were all so adamant and convincing that eventually I accepted this as truth (and grew to self-fulfill the fuck out of that prophecy), that even though I had never before struggled with anxiety or depression, suddenly I was the world's most anxious person to the point that I was hallucinating medical symptoms.
Hmm…well, about that…
It wasn't until just this past year that a doctor actually listened to my concerns and ran the full range of tests to figure out what it was I was experiencing. And he succeeded.
“You aren't crazy, it's very real,” May have been the most validating words ever spoken to me. And then, after thanking him for his unprecedented professionalism and care, the frustration and anger set into my head. I was furious with all the people I came to for help that dismissed me without so much as entertaining my concerns. My concerns were legitimate, and they were ignored.
But even though I still feel like calling them all up and telling them exactly what I was thinking about them in that moment, I have to realize that it won't help or change anything. That doing so will only make me feel guilty for behaving in a way that doesn't suit my character, and won't even do me the service of unburdening me.
I can focus that energy into more productive things, like spreading information about the existence of sexism deeply embedded into the fabric of our health care system, or the massive amounts of misinformation about the correlation between lupus and heart conditions. Hopefully doing so might arm another person with the knowledge to advocate for themselves when faced with the same issues. And that, that might make me feel just a little better.