The older I have become the more I have learned that there is no such thing as a perfect family. Real families are nothing like those in movies and on tv. They are a challenging mix of complex problems and personalities.
Nowhere is this more evident then in the lives of chronic illness sufferers.
Probably one of the most common and saddest experiences that so many Chronic fighters share is the loss of family or rejection and painful behaviour from family members.
It is a lot more common than I ever realized or could ever have imagined.
However, one by one people started sharing their painful stories of how they had been abandoned or hurt by their biological families since becoming chronically ill.
Stories of rejection, isolation, cruel comments, family members doubting them and family being embarrassed to have a chronically ill sufferer in their family abound from every part of the globe.
I doubt that there is one chronically ill person who has not been affected by these behaviors and not one who doesn’t feel hurt, angry or disappointed by it.
For those who are lucky enough to have not received this type of reaction/s then I truly applaud you and your family bond. It is truly wonderful and how things should be. But it isn’t the reality for many, many people out there.
Originally I thought it was just me, but as I connected with others I was shocked and relieved to learn that I was not the only one.
It’s an awful thing to have to admit. Truly awful.
It is one thing to be doubted, hurt, rejected, disappointed and ignored by a stranger but a very different scenario when those people are your relatives and supposed to love and accept you.
Some people manage to make a peace with it while many remain emotionally scared and hurt forever.
As family ties break down and distances are created there can be a point where it can become almost irreparable and so much unnecessary suffering continues.
I have thought about this topic a lot over the years and I feel as though there can be quite a few factors involved which help to create these devastating dynamics.
1. If there was an underlying issue that preexisted the illness. I.e. Anger, jealousy, competitiveness. Becoming ill can bring these issues to the surface and provide family members with a convenient place to focus these underlying problems.
2. So little is known about chronic illnesses that it lends itself to misinformation and harsh criticism.
3. A chronic illness often outlives people’s patience and so people can tire of the limitations and challenges that comes with dealing with a chronic illness. Family members expect a lot more from their relatives. Expectations that can rarely be met. This gives way to anger and resentment.
4. Families can be very worried about the possibility that the chronically ill sufferer may become a financial, physical and emotional burden so they might find it easier to sever the tie early rather than linger and be landed with additional roles and responsibilities.
5. If you were the family member that was always the doer and fulfilled most of the responsibilities, than failure to continue in these duties can cause a resentful backlash.
6. You may have been introverted, independent and distant from your family for most of your life and therefore always on the outside. Your illness and the resulting isolation simply puts an end to those tenuous ties and bonds.
And I am sure there are many more reasons than I can’t possibly list in this piece but the resulting pain can be enormous.
What to do?
There are no easy answers for this one and it really is specific to the person. I won’t even pretend to tell anyone what to do for their family situation but I would like to offer a few suggestions for the sufferer.
1. Believe in yourself. – no matter what illness you have you are the innocent party here. You didn’t cause it and you must believe in the fact that you deserve respect and compassion. Especially from yourself.
2. Be honest with yourself. – if you feel hurt or let down by someone there is no point not admitting it to yourself or constructing a false reality to hide these feelings. It doesn’t help.
3. Forgive. – this is so hard but so important. Forgive yourself and forgive the family. They may be family, but they are also human and have just as many failings as everyone else.
4. Use this time to work on your relationship with friends, fellow sufferers , partners and yourself. Or start new ones! It is incredibly important to rebuild from the ground up. And starting over can mean a new begging and not just an terrible ending.
5. Don’t let anyone control your self worth. no one! – This is critical for reasons not just related to your chronic illness. You are valuable no matter what your health status. If others can’t see that than maybe they shouldn’t be given too much power and control over your feelings of self worth.
6. Keep getting up. – no matter how many times you feel as though the world at large has turned its back on you, please don’t join them. It is our ultimate act of self love. You can still create a life and it can still have meaning to you.
7. Leave the door open – if you see that there is a genuine and meaningful change or shift in the relationship, be willing to let go of the old hurts and consider starting anew. Especially if it is genuine and respectful. Grudges and anger really don’t benefit you and take too much energy that will be better focused on coping and managing your illness.
8. Let go with respect – like any phase or life change, the best thing we can do is let go what we can’t control or change. But doing it from a good place that allows healing to start more quickly. There is no joy in suffering, even the suffering of those that may have done us wrong or treated us poorly.