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Chronic Illness Affects the Whole Family & Behind Closed Doors It Sometimes Gets Ugly

Guilt

Guilt. Have you ever felt guilty for being a (perceived) burden on your family because you are sick? Yesterday on Facebook I asked you if you ever felt like a burden to your family because of your illness and I think almost everyone said, YES! The truth is that being sick doesn’t just affect the sick person. Having a chronic illness affects the entire family. When you are diagnosed with an illness it’s like your entire family is diagnosed along with you. Your illness becomes their illness and because of it’s emotional, physical, and financial strains, chronic illness can break down a family’s functioning. 

Your Illness Becomes Their Illness

Mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, daughter, son. You are sick but you are also part of a family that has become used to their roles within that family. When a person is diagnosed with a chronic illness it throws off the family’s homeostasis and chaos can erupt. 

How your health affects you and your family depends on multiple things: your role in your family unit, the severity of your illness, the age you were diagnosed, the type of support system you have, etc. My hope is that all of you reading this come from happy homes and have a lot of love and support but I know that isn’t always the case. In those situations illness can be even more difficult; especially for sick children who are abused or neglected and are not given the appropriate medical attention. 

When your body is unable to function the way it used to, YOU also stop functioning the way you used to in the family. You may have to stop doing house work, you might have to stop working full time or even stop working all together. You might feel so fatigued that all you want to do is lay in bed and doing a few tasks each day seems like too much. If you are in a relationship you may no longer have an interest in being intimate because you lack energy and because you no longer feel confident in your body. If you are a parent you may no longer have the health to do things your children want to do with you.

You are diagnosed with this disease and not only does it deplete your life of so much but it starts feeling like you are also taking away from the lives of your loved ones. Sometimes you are even though it isn’t your fault. As you lose your independence and ability to do things your family has to step in to help out. This could cause you to feel anger, anxiety, helplessness, and 

depression. It is also very likely to have feelings of guilt. Most of us feel guilt.

Guilt that we are not able to be the parents that we want to be to our children.

Guilt that our parents have had to struggle financially because of our medical bills.

Guilt that our siblings are not getting the attention of our parents because our illness has become the focus of the family.

Guilt that our sex lives have suffered.

Guilt that we haven’t been able to keep up on house work.

Guilt that we are no longer able to hold jobs. 

The list could go on and on. We start feeling like burdens and words like useless and worthless start to penetrate our minds. 

Illness Behind Closed Doors Can Get Ugly

Chronic illness does affect the whole family and it can get really ugly at times. It’s not only stressful and scary for us as patients but it’s also stressful and scary for our family. They may lash out on us and say things they don’t mean. At it’s worst illness can rip a family apart.

 I have seen chronic illness turn things upside-down in my own life and in the lives of my friends. Children with a sick parent may shut down and start isolating themselves or get angry and yell at the sick parent when they don’t know how to express their emotions. Siblings may feel abandoned as their parents focus shifts to the child with the chronic illness. Parents of a sick child may feel consumed with all the responsibilities of caring for a sick person including making big medical decisions. Spouses might feel anger and resentment for having to take on more responsibility and they may feel like their relationship is no longer full of joy.

Not only does it deplete your life of so much but it starts feeling like you are also taking away from the lives of your loved ones. Sometimes you are even though it isn't your fault

How Can A Family Cope?

When a family doesn’t know how to cope or lacks communication skills then things can turn ugly quick. All of their feelings and the things they are dealing with may be communicated through fighting or completely shutting down from each other. 

Communicating with each other is of great importance. A family should try and talk about the illness and treatments with one another and consider every member of the family’s perspective. It is also important that every member of the family is able to express all of their feelings, even the negative ones, and sometimes therapy is the best option for that. A family can seek out counseling together or do individual sessions. It is also important that everyone have a support system outside of the family which is very beneficial because sometimes you just need to vent. Having friends or activities outside of the family can be a great stress reliever and a good reminder of who you are outside of the situation at home. 

Every family member should take care of their physical and emotional health. Try things like meditation, exercise, taking some alone time, or relaxation techniques. If your family doesn’t seem to be handling the illness well it is important to remember that there is help and that you do not, and should not, do it alone. 

Sara

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