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MS and guilt

Annabel Nicklin.jpgMS-UK counsellor Annabel Nicklin discusses how MS can cause feelings of guilt

This week, 13-19 May, is Mental Health Awareness week. People affected by MS can often experience associating effects on their mental health too. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand what somebody means when they talk about mental health issues, and this is why Mental Health Awareness week exists. They aim to make discussions of mental health clearer and a foundation stronger support networks. By supporting Mental Health Awareness week, we can pave the way for greater openness when it comes to mental health, and strive to help those that are further affected by other conditions too.

We can all experience guilt, like any other emotion within our daily lives. Some people experience it occasionally, whilst others may experience it more frequently. Guilt can be a difficult emotion to identify and can often be disguised by feelings of anger or resentment. The feeling can often rear its head when we identify and perceive we have caused ourselves or somebody else a wrongdoing or harm. Guilt can leave us feeling pretty rubbish!

People living with a long-term health condition can experience the grieving process, which is not linked to the death of a loved one. Guilt can be a part of the grieving process where the person is seeking to try and find the answers to their questions of why something is happening to them and the impact that has on others.

People living with MS may experience this feeling for a number of reasons, some of which are discussed below

  • Letting their family, friends and colleagues down by being diagnosed with MS
  • Their MS has put additional burdens on their family life; for example through a change of lifestyle or reduced household income
  • Needing to reduce work hours, socialising, attendance at special occasions and hobbies
  • A need to now rely on others in a way they didn’t before
  • Feel personally responsible for developing MS because they didn’t exercise enough, eat healthily enough or go to their GP early enough. Or wish they had fought harder to be heard by health professionals
  • Being punished for something they feel they did wrong towards somebody else
  • Family members may also experience guilt as they may not feel they’re ‘caring enough’ or that they don’t have enough patience or compassion towards the person living with MS. Or they may blame the person for the challenges presented which can provoke guilt in the person living with MS

Most people will experience feelings of guilt at some point in their life. However, if you notice that you are constantly apologising to yourself or others this could be a telling sign that you may be experiencing feelings of guilt. Communication is key to challenging these feelings. Communicating with somebody you trust such as a family member, friend, colleague or health professional can help you to start alleviating these feelings.

If we do not recognise and process feelings of guilt this can potentially affect our mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes people may want to talk with an experienced mental health professional about their feelings of guilt in a safe, supportive and non-judgemental setting. This could be through:

Counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This can provide space for the person to explore and examine their thoughts and feelings. Counselling can help the person identify new ways of thinking and behaving which can improve the way they feel. 

Relationship or family therapy

The whole family may want to access counselling. This may help family members understand when it might be MS that they perceive to be the ‘problem’ or ‘worry’ and when it is something else.

Mindfulness and meditation

Can help the person to be aware of the present moment where they can calmly recognise and accept their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judgement. This can be a very powerful tool in helping to alleviate feelings of guilt.

You may have read this article and relate to some of what was shared. Others may be thinking that it isn’t relevant at all. As individuals we respond differently to feelings of guilt but what is important to remember is that one of the best ways to cope with feelings of guilt is to try and be as compassionate towards yourself as you would be to somebody else.

This extract was taken from issue 113 of New Pathways magazine, the MS magazine for people with MS, by people with MS.

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