I had a particularly horrendous day yesterday and when I got home from work, I sat on the couch thinking of all the things that I needed to do. Cook dinner, clean house, go to the gym, play with the dogs, do the laundry and the list went on. I felt drained of all energy and just plain exhausted. I continued to sit on the couch and the longer I sat there, the guiltier I felt. I started getting angry at myself for being lazy. I started thinking about guilt and my Rheumatoid Arthritis journey.
One definition for guilt is the cognitive and/or emotional experience that occurs when a person believes accurately or not that he/she has compromised his/her own standards of conduct and bears significant responsibility for that “violation.” Reading that definition really struck home with me. By not doing the things that I am normally responsible for doing, such as making dinner or doing the laundry, I was compromising my own standards and feeling that I was letting down my husband and myself. Talk about a guilt trip. Does it really matter that the laundry gets behind or the house is not clean? Some would say “yes” but those of us who suffer with RA know that our RA journey does not always allow for us to be normal. Sometimes, the simple thing of walking up and down stairs is too much.
So, how do we lose the guilt during those times when we are experiencing RA flare-ups? I looked at the above definition and focused on “compromised” and “bear the responsibility.” I took on “compromise” first. I set certain standards for myself which include keeping the house clean, the laundry caught up, homemade dinners, doggie time, etc. Do I lower my standards or let go of something on my list? If I do, what happens? Who will do it? My house is already dirtier than it has been in the past. It seems like there is a constant layer of dust because I don’t dust as often as I use to. I have already started making simple dinners using four or five ingredient recipes to reduce the amount of time that I am in the kitchen. How do I let go of something without it making an impact on the quality of my life. Shifting responsibility to my husband does not make sense because he already works long hours and travels a great deal. We can’t afford a housekeeper. What to do, what to do? The most obvious solution is to lower my standards. That does not feel like an ideal solution. After considerable thought, here is what I came up with:
- When I have energy, I employ a power meal cooking session which means preparing meals in advance and freezing them so that all I have to do is to take them out of the freezer and reheat them on those days when I lack energy. There are a ton of recipes on the internet on this subject.
- Get my clothes, accessories, etc. together and ready to go when I have energy.
- Prioritize what has to be done and what should be done.
- This is the hardest thing but something that I need to do and that is to understand that having a perfect home isn’t a necessity. I should do what I can and, if I fall behind, to be kind on myself.
Now, on to “bear the responsibility.” I believe that my marriage is a team. As part of that team, it is my responsibility to do certain things to help the team succeed. I gave this a lot of thought too and I realized that my fear of failing the team goes back to when I was age 8 or 9. My parents sent my siblings and me to camp. Each morning we would have a tent inspection. Everyone’s equipment had to be properly stored, the beds made and everything picked up. This one morning, in my haste to pick up, I did not shut my storage locker all the way and had something sticking out. As a result, everyone in my tent was forced to wear a nylon stocking around their necks to signify that we, as a team, had failed our inspection. Everyone was mad at me all day and I believe that I continue to carry the guilt that I felt at that time with me, even today. I am afraid of failing my team. I feel guilty when I don’t accomplish the goals that I set for myself. It is easy to look at this situation and say, “Well, Kate Smith, just change your goals.” Right? It is harder to do. It is hard to let go of decades and decades of conditioned behaviors, guilt, and expectations.
What I have taken away from this exploration of guilt today is that nobody is perfect. Striving for perfection in my life, especially with RA, is a recipe for failure since perfection can never be attained. I need to be aware of the issues that cause the guilt and stop feeling that I am doing something wrong when my RA prevents me from completing a task. I need to attend to my own needs instead of feeling bad about prioritizing my health over my responsibilities. I need to stop judging myself and being so hard on myself. I need to realize that because I am not able to complete a task in the manner that I have dictated for myself, that I am not failing the team. In this exploration today, it is the first time since I was at camp that I finally realized that my experience at camp and that feeling of guilt that I felt that day as been carried with me. That was a “WOW” moment that I will continue to digest in the weeks to come. One thing that I have learned today is that I NEED TO LOSE THE GUILT.
If you are struggling with guilt, I hope that you find a way to lose it and to be kind to yourself. As RA suffers, we have enough to deal with, we don’t need the added pressure of guilt. LOSE IT!
**************Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change. Gretchen Rubin***********