Feeling Like a Failure for Being Sick

My youngest daughter was only a few months old when I ended up with a separated shoulder. Holy tomatoes, the pain was almost worse than delivering her; in fact, it probably was worse because it rendered me practically unable to function. If it wasn’t the pain that stopped me in my tracks, it was the fact that I’m highly dependent on my arms, of of which was now immobile, and somewhat useless.

I remember the look of disgust on my partner’s face when I asked his cousin to help me clip my bra closed, and tie my hair up. He wasn’t upset that I asked someone other than him, he was upset that I asked for help, period. When she left, my partner told me that he was “disappointed in how weak [I was] when I had been able to go through three unmedicated labours, and deliveries; this should not have me as couch bound as I was.

I cried.

I didn’t cry because of his words.

I didn’t cry because of the pain.

I didn’t cry because I wasn’t able to take anything to rid my body of the pain (thank you breastfeeding combined with my already sensitive system!)

I cried because he was disappointed in me, and therefore, I was A FAILURE.

I was letting my other two children down by not being able to do everything that was expected of ME. I was letting everyone down by not being able to keep up with MY tasks, MY chores, MY responsibilities, and obligations.


I wonder what most people would have done in my situation? Basically unemployed because of maternity leave, three young children, and no local family to turn to. I’m hearing the voices screaming at me to “run for the hills,” and “kick him out!” but reality was that I was trapped, and had little choice. Let’s also face the fact that self-esteem takes a huge hit after childbirth, alongside hormones, and clear thinking.

What did I do? I sucked it up. I stopped complaining about the pain. I stopped asking for help. I went for physiotherapy when possible, and I learned how to manoeuvre my body to prevent sharp spasms until I felt better. I simply stopped needing anything from anyone except myself.

I was no longer a failure.

That experience struck a chord with me. It marred the way I fell ill after that. Clearly, I could not fail again.

Of course, there were times when I was knocked clear off my ass by illness, but I’m embarrassed to admit to breastfeeding a crying baby while tending to my own issues with a stomach virus. Why? The child was crying, and I was the only person able to soothe her. Could she have waited five minutes? Of course, but that would have been selfish of me.

Did I become a martyr, or a sacrificial lamb? I don’t know.

I do know that I was very careful about ever needing help, or asking for assistance when I found myself ill.

Today, I stood in front of close to three hundred students and managed to teach them all sans voice. How? Well, that’s easy, they respect me enough to care about each word that I share with them, and I showed videos that expressed what I wanted to say. Once in a while, we’re all allowed to “take the easy way out, no?”

I didn’t want to admit it, but I am sick. I tried to cook dinner last night, but I couldn’t lift myself from the couch. Guilt washed over me as I informed everyone that they would have to fend for themselves and forge their way through the produce, and shelf-stable groceries to figure out dinner. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I felt ashamed.

It’s been over a decade since my separated shoulder, and uncomfortable breastfeeding. In that time, I’ve had surgeries, a car accident, and several “knock me off my ass” illnesses. There have been times that I’ve taken the power back and hidden in bed for a few days until I was strong enough to function, however even during those “keep off my grass days,” I found myself being drawn into situations that could truly have been resolved, or dealt with sans moi.

Besides that, every day that I invest hidden beneath the comforts of my ugly grey duvet, I’m subjected to voices, those that I’ve allowed into my psyche, and those that belong to the people with whom I share my life. These voices creep in to tell me that it’s okay for me to rest, but you know, there is so much that needs to be done, and well, this could be done if you weren’t sick…Even my best friend at work scorns me for taking days off when I’m sick, or worse, relying on conventional medications to deal with illnesses.

They are all voices that belong to guilt trip travel agents. It’s up to me to decide if I allow them to imprint their boarding passes onto my soul, of if I’m able to motor my way in my own direction. For now, I need to work on not feeling like a failure when I’m sick. I need to make sure that I listen to my body, and truly acknowledge my health needs. I need to not let myself, or my needs falter in order to support someone else’s skewed life views.

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