I would guess that the idea of guilt has crossed the minds of most, if not all, of us who face RA. There are stages of grief that accompany the diagnosis of a chronic and life altering disease. One of the least discussed, yet potentially most destructive, is guilt.
"Why did I get RA" and the guilt associated with it
I know I certainly felt, and oddly still feel, guilt at times. I think perhaps it is because those feelings are part of the process of seeking the answer to the why me stage that accompanies a major diagnosis. For many people, that stage is very brief and fleeting but for others it can stick around a long time. And for some it really never passes, often leading to depression and an inability to move forward.
For me, it was a period of self- examining and re-examining what I might have done to trigger RA. Did I not eat properly? Was it because of not managing stress properly? What did I do to bring this disease into my life? Was I somehow to blame?
I think tossing this idea around is not only a natural part of the acceptance phase but actually healthy. We really need to reflect on all kinds of emotions and concepts in order to discover the reality and the future that is in store for us with RA. By spending some time considering whether there is any guilt for us to carry we can, hopefully, dismiss it and move forward with a clear and direct path.
Absolving yourself for having RA
The truth, and it will be discovered by each of us eventually, is that none of us did, or could have done, ANYTHING to avoid RA. The source or trigger has yet to be determined but there are lots of theories, from genetic predisposition to a virus. None suggest anything a person could do to prevent it. For sometime, when the discussion arose around living a life anchored in preventative practices being the key to all disease prevention, I was sure I had somehow failed. Not true.
I think the very fact that the trigger or cause of RA is unknown is partly to blame for the “guilt complex”. There are diseases that point to lifestyle choices as a potential factor. Smoking, lack of exercise, obesity all have serious diseases associated with them so it is natural for us to wonder if the same is true for RA.
I clearly remember even asking the physician who diagnosed me if I had done something to cause RA. He reassured me that there was nothing I could have done but there was a sense of guilt that still lingered for a while.
I was only in my forties when diagnosed and as the life changes began to accumulate thanks to RA, I could not help but question whether I had somehow contributed to the onset of this disease. Part of it was just wanting an answer! How did this happen to me? I was fit, healthy and happy. How does RA just come out of nowhere and suddenly change my life?
Guilt can eat away at our spirits and paralyze us. It is a destructive force, yes, but can be a good thing when it comes to conscience and making good choices. But if misplaced, it can prevent us from seeing the truth, which truly can set you free.
I really don’t honestly remember exactly when I knew there was absolutely nothing I could have done but when I had that realization it felt good and I had a true sense of relief. More importantly, I could now move forward to a place of action and management of RA.
Have you shared tips on how to manage RA with anyone before?