THE “D” WORD
As parents we question deeply if we are responsible for our youngster’s IBD. Sometimes the guilt just eats us up. We’re sure someday, some research will come up with the conclusion that it is all our fault. And we’ll say, “I knew it!”
The fact that there is not yet such evidence doesn’t stop us from loading ourselves down with guilt.
When my daughter was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s, the doctor told me that often people who have the disease go an average of six years before it is diagnosed and treated. Those are six years I kick myself for daily. Why didn’t I know?
Of course, I had never even heard of the disease and her doctor was always assuring us that she was just fine. When Dara fainted at school her doctor didn’t even want me to bring her in for a check up. She assured me that this happens all the time. And when I talked to people about the incident, everyone had a “fainting” story for me. I began to believe that it was a common occurrence.
Two months later, when my daughter had stomach aches that kept her doubled over on the couch, both the school secretary and the doctor tried to assure me that the stomach flu was going around. Lots of kids were out with it.
After five days of “stomach flu”, I insisted, over the doctor’s protest, on bringing her in to the doctor’s office. That precipitated an immediate trip to the emergency room and the discovery of the Crohn’s.
You may think I would credit myself for finally getting her the help she needed. But I just weep at the thought that I let her suffer like that for so long. The guilt is overwhelming.
There must be a reason for guilt. It may be there to make us do the right thing; Listen to our parents and teachers until we get enough sense to figure out life. But by then, guilt can be an ingrained reaction. If you ask me, a bad habit learned too well. Whatever good it may serve is lost as over-guilty takes a toll on our lives with fear and depression.
The most common reaction is to blame someone else. (It’s the other side of guilt in which we blame ourselves.) If we can find someone else to blame then we don’t have to be guilty. If we can find who or what is at fault we can avoid having it happen again. We can gain control. This may explain the guilt/blame mechanism, but in truth, we just dump on someone else. Oops, now we can be guilty about that. Not a good solution.
So how do we un-guilt ourselves.
1. TAKE COMFORT: Think of yourself as a friend and talk to your guilty side. Now, if a friend told you that she had caused her child’s IBD, you’d probably tell her that was ridiculous. You’d comfort her. You’d tell her there is no evidence that something she did caused the disease, and even if, by some unlikely chance, her cooking or her genetic make up is proved faulty, she didn’t do it with any premeditation. No jury would find her guilty. This is how you would talk to a friend and you’d totally mean it. Be that rational friend to yourself.
2. FORGIVE: The key to dealing with guilt is forgiveness. So not only do you feel you caused your child’s IBD but, if you are like me, you are tormented by the fact that you didn’t figure it our sooner. How could a child fall off the growth chart at five and no one figure out what was happening until she ended up in the hospital at 12 years old. I’m her mother. Shouldn’t I have intuited that something was very wrong?
Again, if you had a friend tell you that she had guilt about her child’s illness, you would absolve her instantly. You would tell her to acknowledge that she was doing the best she could with the information she had at the time. As much as you wish to protect your child from all harm, the truth is, things happen that you have no control over. Try to find some forgiveness in your heart for yourself.
3. ATONEMENT: Okay, if you are so guilty - do something. And beating yourself up is not what I mean by do something. In fact, do something other than that. Take a positive, action approach. Say you are sorry to whomever you need to tell that you are sorry, including yourself.
Then, here are some other things you can do. Go to a fund-raiser. Try to increase awareness if you can. Offer support to someone else. Think of small, positive things that you can do for your family as all of you deal with the monster IBD. Acknowledge all the loving things you are already doing.
4. KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR. My friend and I often discuss who has the most guilt. I drag out centuries of ancestors suffering in the desert and other miseries that insure my guilty status. She beats her chest and sings, “mea copa.”
I usually concede at that point. The glint in her eye as she one-ups me surely denotes the sin of pride and that will send her straight to hell. I’ll be there for my many sins. I foresee we’ll continue our debate in Hades forever.
In the meantime, I forgive you. Please be kind to yourself too and those you love. And if you still feel guilty, you know whom you can visit in the hot place in the hereafter.
Copyright 1996 - 2002 Arlyn Serber