Survivor’s Guilt is a serious condition and I’m not even sure it applies to this. It is similar, yet different. I have to deal with Survivor’s Guilt with other instances, and what I’m describing is close to the same feeling.
Throughout our lives I have always been the healthy, athletic one, while my sister has always been the sickly, bookish one. There’s nothing wrong with being athletic, and there’s nothing wrong with being bookish. That is just how our social roles seemed to be defined at the time.
While she had asthma, I played little league sports. While she would rather read and write, I hated being inside. I remember a childhood filled with wanderings in the woods and rollerblading or cycling down city suburban sidewalks.
She was diagnosed with Thyroid problems when we were in high school. I remember it was a big ordeal, but it didn’t bother me. As soon as I knew that Drs. Could handle it, I quit worrying. It wouldn’t affect me personally, so of course, I was as callous as a younger healthier sister could be.
I don’t remember flaunting my healthier status in front of my sister, but I’m pretty sure I did. I was not a humble child, at all. I wasn’t a malicious, sociopathic child, but I was quite arrogant and proud of my health, beauty, and intelligence.
I have to admit that after my sister went off to college we fell out of touch and she was no longer an important part of my life. I had high school and a part time job to worry about. Living alone with our mother didn’t help, but that’s a whole different story. There are various things that I remember about her health from that time period of about ten years. I’m pretty sure she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression (trademarks of our family), cholesterol problems, and I’m almost positive that she had surgery on her knees, or at least one of them.
All of these didn’t concern me. They weren’t exactly life altering or truly fatal. And they didn’t directly affect me. Yes, I was, and can still be, quite self-centered. Yes, I’m working on that.
Then my sister was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. At first I firmly planted myself along with all those who believe that it’s not a real illness. I was sure that she was just being a hypochondriac. She’d been sick almost all her life, and now that she was thirty-ish, she had to pull something that didn’t even exist. I had no idea what it even entailed, nor did I care.
It actually took a twelve hour long conversation with a friend online to convince me. My friend suffers from Fibromyalgia. During that twelve hour time period I could see the changes. I could physically see the brain fog while she was typing words. I could see her struggle and her frustration and her shame.
Needless to say, I felt like utter shit. Truly. I had dismissed my own sister’s suffering for so long, and here was tangible proof, at least to me, of this affliction.
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a medical condition characterized by chronic widespread pain and a heightened and painful response to pressure. Symptoms other than pain may occur, leading to the use of the term fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). Other symptoms include feeling tired to a degree that normal activities are affected, sleep disturbance, and joint stiffness. Some people also report difficulty with swallowing, bowel and bladder abnormalities, numbness and tingling, and cognitive dysfunction. Fibromyalgia is frequently associated with psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety and stress-related disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder.
I spent a whole weekend researching Fibro. I literally researched it to the point to where I wondered if I had symptoms. No, I don’t have Fibro. I’m still basically healthy.
Now, on to the Survivor’s Guilt. I’ve apologized and have somewhat forgiven myself for being a jerk kid. It’s in the past, and I know I have to let it go. I’m pretty sure that my sister is dealing with it, in her own way, as well. I bet it felt pretty good when I acknowledged what a brat I was.
What I have trouble dealing with is the fact that I’ve always been the healthy one. I have the family curse of anxiety and depression, but that stems from nurture, not nature. Every female in our genetic maternal line has thyroid problems except for me. Every person in my entire family has an illness except for me. Granted, the elders of our family have typical elderly illnesses. I feel like Arnold S. from the movie Twins.
I am horrible at being politically correct. When it comes to attempting to be inoffensive, I’m like a bull in a china shop. Try as I may, I have a really hard time relating to someone who is sick all day, every day, and that’s what Fibro is. It is an all-consuming illness. She doesn’t ever Not deal with it. I’m not very good at dealing with that or emoting or anything like that.
I don’t know what to do or say, so I usually end up washing her dishes every time I go over there. It’s how my mind wants to fix the problem. I know she can’t do a lot of housework. I know her significant other works a lot and takes care of a lot. I know I can wash the stupid dishes while I’m visiting. It seems very practical to me. The dishes need to be done and I’m perfectly able to do the dishes. This is actually a really big deal in my head. Almost OCD level.
I’m pretty sure they hate me washing their dishes. It’s only happened twice, so far. I have this feeling that I’m really offending their pride by washing their dishes. In my head, I think, “Well, it’s not like I’m touching their dirty laundry.” Although I would do that too, as well as clean her house, if she’d let me. I’m not sure she would.
All of this means to me that because I can’t deal with emotions in a healthy way, I have to solve the problem in a practical manner. It feels a lot like Survivor’s Guilt, and I have no idea how to handle it. It’s not going away. I’m not giving up my healthy status as long as I can help it. She’s not getting any better, and as far as I know there’s no cure for Fibro.
I have looked up ways to deal with Survivor’s Guilt.
Healing Hearts (Religious): http://www.healingheart.net/articles/grief_stages/stages_guilt.html
Darlene Lancer JD, MFT: http://www.whatiscodependency.com/ho-to-overcome-guilt-and-forgive-yourself/
This is an ongoing situation that doesn’t have a simple answer or an easy ending. I wanted to share how I feel as someone who is healthy trying to relate to someone who has Fibro. In short, I have no flippin’ clue. It’s not the flu. I can’t empathize because I’ve never gone through it. I can’t even pretend to empathize and give empty platitudes. I just hope that this helps someone else going through the same thing.
Here is my sister’s blog, Lavender and Lemons: http://carpens2.wix.com/lavenderandlemon