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It was 15 years ago, but the memory is still as fresh as if it was yesterday. My body started experiencing pains I had never felt and my level of fatigue was worse than when I had been pregnant with my son; life as I knew it began to change.
It took a few years, but the doctor finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia to add to my neck and spine issues, peripheral neuropathy and intrinsic factor that flushed B-12 out of my system as fast as I put it in.
This was not a good condition for a single mom with a nine-year-old boy to be in. At my worst, I could only get out of bed for an hour at a time. Suddenly, that sweet baby boy had to take on “man of the house” duties. He checked the doors at night to make sure they were locked tight. He folded laundry, made sandwiches and sweet tea. He woke me from napping on the sofa to help get me to bed. He made his own breakfast and prepared his own school lunch.
For all the pain I felt each day, the worst was the pain in my heart — an overwhelming guilt over not being able to take care of my child and my home.
Yet each day those big brown eyes, mirrors of my own and as big as saucers, looked deep into mine. With that look, a gentle hug, and a “Mom, I love you,” I felt abundantly blessed and overwhelmingly ashamed all at the same time. He knew it wasn’t my fault and I knew it wasn’t my fault, but that didn’t stop a mother’s heart from breaking.
I’m not sure what I find hardest; the constant pain, fatigue and myriad of symptoms that come with fibro, or the constant need to explain and justify it.
That nine-year-old is now 23. Three months ago, he moved back in with me. There were multiple reasons, but the truth is he is still a huge help to me after all these years.
When he contributes to the household financially and I see him holding off on life goals to hang around and help me through a rough spot, that same fibro guilt tries to creep up on me again.
Then my son puts his arms around me and thanks me for doing laundry, or preparing dinner, or cooking breakfast. Each time my heart hurts over the things I can’t change, those big, familiar, brown eyes serve as a sweet reminder of the things I can change; they are still mirrors, allowing me to see myself through his heart.
I suppose none of us ever truly rid ourselves of the guilt that comes with dealing with a chronic illness such as fibromyalgia. Its invasive nature runs rampant through the lives of everyone close to us and shows no mercy.
My elderly parents still bring food by on days when a flare-up has turned my plans upside down and I am barely able to move, never mind cook a meal. My mother will spend extra time at the grocery store picking up items I am too fatigued to drive and purchase myself. My friends will do research on material that I am too exhausted to look up when I am working on marketing for my business.
Guilt. It can feel horrible and beautiful all at the same time. Why? Because while it breaks our hearts when we fall short of our own expectations, it also motivates us to push through the physical pain and fatigue through the power of love for those who are the objects of our guilt-filled heart.
Guilt over a situation beyond our control should not be frowned upon but welcomed. It’s a reminder of how much we are loved and how much we love; and that love finds a way to turn the guilt into determination to keep going, keep pushing through and never give up.