I entered the world of chronic illness with the mindset that being dependent on others meant being valueless, that any health issue I saw as an inconvenience to myself was an even bigger inconvenience to those around me who had to “deal with it.”
But even though it might feel as though you are a burden on your loved ones, that’s not necessarily the case. As another Mighty contributor wrote, “Chronic illness may be a burden to me and my life, but I am not one to others because of it.”
Because of these feelings, though, many of those with chronic illness may act in certain ways or engage in certain behaviors to cope. These actions aren’t always understood by those that surround you and can be taken in a different way. Behaviors such as pretending you’re OK when you’re not, doing more than you should and shutting people out are common but can be misinterpreted by those you surround yourself with.
We wanted to know more about the things people with chronic illness do that others don’t realize they’re doing because feel like a burden. That’s why we asked our Mighty community what they had to say. Any feelings of guilt or fear you may be experiencing due to your illness are completely valid, but know that illness does not make you a burden. If you can relate to any of the following, you’re not alone.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
“Apologize like crazy. For existing. Try to do anything and everything they ask even if I physically can’t. Don’t complain out loud. Stifle the tears in the bathroom when it hurts too much and you can’t take it anymore. The list never ends…” – Brandi W.
“Apologizing often and for everything no matter how small; I’ve always felt like a burden and don’t know what to do other than say I’m sorry.” – Kathryn H.
“I’m a walking apology. I think every time we have had to go to the hospital, I was telling my honey I’m sorry you have to be here. He keeps telling me it’s not my fault I had no control over it. But I still feel like a god-awful burden.” – Molly S.
2. Shut People Out
“Don’t ask for help when I really could use some. I don’t talk about my pain anymore, I actually tend to shut people out because of how I was treated before. I hide the pain and tears.” – Lyndsey R.
“I retreat from everyone. And there is a lot of crying in the bathroom. I can see the stress my health causes, so I try to hide it now.” – Mindy L.
“Isolating myself! It’s a habit I’ve always had and half the time don’t even realize I’m doing it. I don’t want others to know how sick I am and it’s the best way to hide it.” – Tyler S.
3. Put Your Health on Hold
“I try to not see my doctors as often as I should and put so many things on hold so that my health won’t be in the way of the rest of the family’s plans.” – Dawn K.
4. Push Yourself Past Your Limits
“I downplay my pain and tell my husband I want to do things myself. Even when we both know I can’t I will push it to the point I hurt myself even more just so I can say I did it by myself or almost did it by myself. I hate [feeling like] a burden and didn’t realize how prideful I can be.” – Sarah S.
“Pushing myself doing chores when I’m in pain because I feel like a burden and a failure if I can’t even do housework.” – Karen S.
“I have a tendency to push myself way too hard if I feel like asking for help, or asking for a break is going to inconvenience or burden someone. It usually results in me exhausting myself or being sick for a few days while I recover. There are some days when I feel particularly useless and needy which tends to result in an overabundance of stubbornness.” – Kaveat H.
5. Put Others’ Needs Before Your Own
“Doing work and helping others regardless of needing time and energy (rest) for myself. Spending my time wrong because I feel obligated to spend time on others once in a while (everyone wants your time else you’ll lose them).” – Claire C.
6. Refuse Help
“I will starve for hours before I ask for help with making some food.” – Shayla F.
“I’ll literally let myself die in bed before I burden my family, neighbors, and hospital staff with calling an ambulance.” – CJ L.
“I don’t ask for help, don’t rely on others and keep to myself. Over-apologize for things I shouldn’t have to, and bail on plans out of fear of scaring them off.” – Kayden M.
7. Get Frustrated
“[I] avoid people. I get angry and frustrated for no reason and take it out on them. I seem selfish but really it’s because I feel worthless and that people don’t care about what I can still do, or don’t think about me when they look for someone who can do what I can but don’t even bother considering me.” – Cecelia K.
8. Lie About How You’re Feeling
“Lie about being OK. From pain to chores. Very hard for me to ask for help. I expect them to know what I need, and that’s not really fair.” – Pam W.
“I lie. I will tell everyone I am fine. I’ll push myself to do things I really shouldn’t. It makes me look normal. But then, I’ll have a complete breakdown, be bedridden for a few days and ignore everyone around me because I am in so much pain… then a lot of apologizing comes after that. Because I was a hermit and didn’t answer calls and whatnot… then I start all over again. Then there are times when I’m practically screaming for help… but I feel like a broken record. I feel like people are tired of hearing me talk about what I go through.” – Amy M.
“Tell people, my husband usually, that I want to do fun stuff on the weekend, when we both know I can’t, and we both know if I do it I’ll be wrecked for the next few days.” – Claire H.
9. Say Yes to Events and Activities
“I don’t want to disappoint people, so I never say no. [I] run myself past my limit and then regret it because I’m exhausted.” – Kim K.
“Saying yes, when I absolutely should be saying no. Doing things that I know are beyond my limitations and that I will pay for later versus asking for help.” – Kimberly P.
We also asked our Mighty community what advice they would give to those who might be struggling with feeling like a burden. It’s totally understandable to do certain things and act a certain way because of your chronic illness and the feelings it can bring. Even if these behaviors are misunderstood by those in your life, please know you are worthy.
Here’s some encouragement our community had to share:
1. You are not defined by your productivity.
“Your productivity is not your worth! Don’t beat yourself up over things you cannot control.” – Amy C.
“You are not measured by your ‘productivity’ according to others. According to [some] people, if you only get out of bed to brush your teeth, you did nothing. But guess what? You took care of yourself.” – Alexandria M.
2. You are still valuable, and contribute more than you may realize.
“You contribute more than you give yourself credit [for]. If you can’t work/drive/exercise/recreation the way you used to before your diagnosis doesn’t mean you have stopped contributing to your family. Your smile and positive attitude reaches further than you realize. Your laugh is just as sweet or even sweeter. Your kind words and loving advice is just as valid and just as appreciated. Your hugs and kisses are worth more than any precious jewel or metal. Your gentle voice is all your family may need to get through the day. You aren’t useless. You aren’t a burden. You haven’t stopped being you. You aren’t defined by your illness but rather your illness defines how strong you are.” – Gina L.
3. Being chronically ill doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of love.
“Even if you can’t get out of bed for weeks at a time that doesn’t mean you are unworthy of love and appreciation. You are fighting a war no one can see. Your worth is not defined by how others see you or what you can do for them. You gotta look in the mirror and know that just waking up and breathing is enough. You are beautiful, you are powerful, you are worthy.” – Tiffany G.
4. We all need help sometimes – and that’s OK.
“Just because you may need help sometimes doesn’t mean you’re helpless.” – Miranda R.
“The best advice I received is that you are not a burden, your disease is. And it’s not a burden you have to carry alone. Find your tribe – the people who make you want to get up every morning and fight for your quality of life. Find a band of others who live with your disease whether it’s in person or online and talk to them daily. Get it out. Find an outlet whether it’s writing, vlogging, painting, singing, etc. and use it as a way to channel your pain and insecurities. Remember that you are stronger than you even realize. The fact that you’re looking for encouragement means that you have hope there’s something out there to ignite your spark to keep fighting, you just have to find it. I once spent hours apologizing to friends for being a constant ‘Debbie Downer’ and one responded with, ‘How you’re feeling right now, in this moment, is not who you are.’ It stuck with me and I remind myself of that every time I start hearing those self-deprecating thoughts creep back in. You are enough. You are strong. You are brave. You’re gonna get through these daily trials and find yourself again. It may not be the path you envisioned for your life, but there is purpose for your pain, and your light just may be what shines bright enough for another person going through this life to find their way. Gentle hugs.” – Katelyn I.
“‘You can be changed by what happens to you but refuse to be reduced by it,’ [is] my favorite quote by Maya Angelou. Our illnesses change us and make us adapt our lives around them, but they don’t reduce our worth. Remember that!!” – Jae M.
5. Other people’s opinions don’t affect how valuable you truly are.
“If you’re worried about others thinking negatively of you because of your illness, just remember that anyone who doesn’t value your worth with your symptoms, doesn’t deserve you without them.” – Caitlin Y.
“At the end of the day, what people think about you doesn’t matter. What you think about yourself does; your goals, your dreams, and your values determine who you are. Other people’s judgment can never change that.” – Amy C.
6. Remember that there is so much more to you and your worth than your diagnosis.
“You have every right to feel the way you feel but [reflect on] before your illness. Who were you? Your illness does not define you so please understand that. You were born to be great. People who know you know the ins and outs of you. Just know that you are beautiful.” – Ngozi O.
“You are not your diagnosis. You are worth more than your diagnosis or symptoms make you seem. Don’t allow something as finite as a diagnosis influence what you think of yourself! You are worth so much more than you realize and your diagnosis is not a part of that worth!” – Tabitha H.
“You are so much more than your illness. It’s so hard to see sometimes when dishes are piled up or laundry isn’t done. Be kind to yourself. Put as much love and kindness into you as you do everyone else.” – Sara H.
If you’re struggling with feeling like a burden because of your illness, you’re not alone. Check out the following stories for some additional reminders from our community: