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The Guilt of Letting Myself Down Over and Over

Guilt and I spend a lot of time together. It is my closest friend, a friend I happen to despise. This is one bad relationship I don’t think will ever end. I feel guilty when I let anyone down, especially when that person is me. Multiple times a day I make promises to myself and multiple times a day I break those promises.

Lists are essentially promises to oneself. You plan to do each item on the list: make a phone call, clean the kitchen, have dinner with friends, pick up the house, etc. Organized folks will assign realistic dates to tasks. I give deadlines too; usually leaving 48 hours to accomplish all 12 items. Then berate myself for not taking care of them.

I’ve always had high expectations for myself. Even after all these years of migraine and chronic daily headache impeding my success, I think I can do more than I’m physically capable of. I believe I should be able to do everything I want or need to do, even without realistic parameters. Thus starts the cycle of self-blame and guilt.

Letting myself down — and feeling horrible about it — day after day haunts me. Being self-critical is my way of life. I don’t think being hard on myself is the only problem here, but don’t know what else is at work.

Triage is more important than source-sleuthing for now. Not calling myself a flake is probably a good start! After that I’m stuck. I can’t stop setting goals; that would be giving up on my life and giving in to migraine and chronic daily headache. Where is the line between labeling something as unrealistic or as a goal to strive for?

Prioritizing is the most obvious solution. Even that is confusing. How to prioritize when I might not get to the priorities? How do I choose what I really need to do? When do I choose what I want to do over what I need to do?

Learning to let go when I can’t follow through with myself seems helpful — and impossible. Cognitive behavioral therapy, perhaps the ideal solution, isn’t going to make it into my schedule anytime soon. Any suggestions?

photo credit: Raul_d50

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Friends, Balance, Guilt

I wrote yesterday’s post hoping that the friends we’re going to visit this weekend wouldn’t get a chance to read it. No such luck. C called this morning to say she’d just read the blog and they were worried about me.

Fortunately, I felt great when she called, so I was able to assuage some of their fears. But she told me that they plan to pamper me this weekend. I’m supposed to sit still and not lift a finger. Trouble is, we’re going there to pamper them! I hope I can sneak something in here and there. At least I can hold babies even if I’m attached to the couch.

C called a couple months ago and asked if I was up to talking. When I said no, she said, “Well, we can talk later, but I wanted to let you know that we adopted twins.” That was it. She wouldn’t tell me anything else because she didn’t want to keep me on the phone.

I feel so cared for, but have to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me, even when I have an entrenched migraine. I’m embarrassed to say that I often feel like it does. I get so deep in my hole that I forget to look around. Then again, sometimes I try so hard to take care of other people that I don’t let myself hide out when I need to.

Does my life come down to seeking the ever-elusive happy medium and trying to minimize my guilt? If so, is it a product of my illness or a fundamental characteristic?

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Guilt Comorbid With Headaches

“Comorbidity refers to the greater than coincidental association of separate conditions in the same individuals. Historically, a number of conditions have been noted to be comorbid with migraine, notably psychiatric disorders (anxiety, depression, panic disorder), epilepsy, asthma, and some congenital heart defects.”

This quote is from an abstract of an article from the June 2005 issue of Current Opinions in Neurology. A comorbidity never included on the list is guilt. OK, so guilt isn’t exactly a illness, but you have to admit there is a “greater than coincidental association” of guilt in people with headache.

We feel guilty because we think we’ve done something to contribute to the pain. Maybe it was getting too worked up over that deadline, eating a trigger food, staying up too late with friends, not drinking enough water, oversleeping. We lie in pain, berating ourselves for whatever we did that caused this headache.

We feel guilty because our partners, parents, kids or friends take care of us when we’re sick. Not only that, they have to pick up the slack of the of chores, errands and responsibilities that we couldn’t take care of.

We feel guilty because we call in sick to work, cancel plans with friends, sleep too much, tell everyone around us to be quiet, have dust bunnies under our beds and in the corners and even in the middle of the dining room table.

We feel guilty because we don’t go to our kids’ soccer games, return phone calls, stop to chat with neighbors, enjoy the sunshine/snow/rain, take the dog for a walk, cook dinner.

While our heads pound, we rage against ourselves for demanding to be the center of attention, not doing our duties, spoiling plans, being unsociable. Our guilt entraps us not just because we let other people down, but because we let ourselves down. Every day. We know we could do more or be better or care for others if we weren’t so weak or lazy or crazy.

We tell ourselves this isn’t true. We may even know it academically. But it’s hard to believe when we’re laid up, cooped up, fed up.

Paul of A ClusterHead’s Life is intimate with guilt these days.

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Obsessing Over Headache or Migraine Triggers

Most articles on migraines focus on what patients can do to avoid headaches. This is great for getting us involved with our own care, but it’s also one more reason to feel guilty or at fault. You know, when your head is screaming and you’ve got the running commentary going:

“What did I eat today? Was it the chocolate chip cookie, the garlic bread, the grapefruit juice . . .? Oh, I bet it was the hot dog at the baseball game. I can’t go to a game without getting a hot dog. That’s un-American. Did I eat enough today? Maybe I went too long between meals. Or didn’t drink enough water. Was that latte really decaf? Could it be that something in the decaffeinating process triggered my headache? I thought they used Swiss Water Process. Did I stay up too late talking with friends? Spending time with people I love reduces my stress. Don’t I get credit for trying?”

Headache sufferers spend so much time, well, suffering. It’s silly to waste what energy we do have hating ourselves for bringing on our headaches. Because we don’t bring them on ourselves. We can’t expect our families, friends or co-workers to understand this if we constantly blame ourselves for our pain.

You can control parts of your environment. It’s probably not a good idea to eat a particular food when you’re 99% sure it’s a trigger. But you’re not to blame for wanting to enjoy your life when you can. Maybe you could have avoided the headache, maybe not. Once in a while happiness has to outweigh pain.

When I’m in the grip of horrendous pain and furious with myself because I ate the wrong thing or did the wrong thing, I try to remember that I don’t have headaches because I’m bad. OK, maybe this particular headache was triggered by lack of sleep, but this illness isn’t my fault.

It’s stressful to be angry with yourself. That’s a migraine trigger all on its own.

I wrote this in August 2005 and am not sure why I never posted it. I found it, so here it is.

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Make More Time for Yourself

So many headache sufferers overflow with guilt — their houses are messy, their kids don’t eat decent dinners, friends and family can’t depend on them, and so on. Making taking care of yourself a priority is tough with all this self-reproach. But doing so is absolutely necessary with an illness that can be exacerbated by stress.

Taking time for yourself will you feel better emotionally and, quite likely, physically. Symptoms often ease up the better you sleep, eat and laugh. This, in turn, frees you to do more of what you want to do, like playing with your kids or spending time with friends.

Taking care of yourself is hard to learn how to do, especially for women. Jenni from ChronicBabe shares 10 tips to make life a little easier — tricks that are helpful for women and men alike.

I’m as guilty as the next person of shorting myself, so I’m trying some of Jenni’s tips. My favorite so far is the kitchen timer trick. I will dedicate some “me time” this afternoon to getting my free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone.