Even if you’ve not seen the Disney animation Frozen (and you should, it’s good!), you’ll likely be familiar with the song Let It Go, a global smash hit, and the bane of parents’ lives as their little ones sing it morning, noon and night.
What’s that got to do with guilt? Well I was surprised to learn, as I reflect on the year gone by, just how often I felt guilty about stuff. Things within my control. Thinks not in my control. Things that frankly were none of my business. Guilt kept rearing its ugly head.
I now know what a waste of time and, most importantly, energy it is. And the best response when you notice it is to… let it go.
Now I feel guilty for that song being in your head!
In the early days of my search for a diagnosis before I learned it was ME, I was off work but able to head outside for short strolls.
I felt guilty for enjoying the fresh air. My internal soundtrack told me that if I was off work I should be at home feeling miserable.
If I’d arranged to meet a friend but had to cancel because fatigue or pain had become too much I felt guilty for letting them down.
By early evening, just as my fiancé is coming home from work, I was so washed out I needed to go to bed. I felt guilty for not seeing more of him after his day slaving in the office.
If a friend had called and I didn’t have the energy to answer so let it go to answer phone I felt guilty for being a terrible friend.
Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. It was all around.
I’d make an appointment to see my doctor and ensure I tested loads for the days before I was due to see him. I’d then feel guilty for looking okay, instead of like death warmed up. I was convinced he thought I was wasting his time.
My fiancé would book a table at a lovely restaurant, or arrange for us to go to the cinema, or plan for us to see a friend for a social drink. Great. Something normal to look forward to. Then, at the time I was due to head out, I just couldn’t face it. Again, guilty for letting everybody down and ruining their evening.
I reckon it was a good six to eight months before I spotted the level of guilt and was rational enough to realise it was ridiculous.
The turning point was a friend messaging me back after I’d cancelled on her. She told me she was pleased I was looking after myself and doing the right thing. After all, we could meet another time. It was her ‘permission’ that opened my eyes to the nonsense of much of my guilt.
I’ve still not mastered it completely, but being aware of it, catching it when it happens, and letting a chorus of Let It Go float through my mind usually does the trick.
And what’s the effect of letting go?
It means you don’t end up doing things that are beyond your energy capacity. That in turn reduces the amount of payback. That means, for me, less time in pain in bed. And the mental baggage that comes with the frustration and low points of ME, is less heavy and appears less often.
If you turn guilt on its head, the people in your life actually appreciate your honesty.
It can be hard for them to understand ME as the symptoms are hidden, and your worst days are also hidden as you’re bed or house bound. By explaining you can’t do something because you are looking after your fragile energy stores, or indeed by explaining you are doing something because you’ve been careful to ration and save up those energy stores, you’re helping them gain an insight into the weird world of ME.
Better informed friends and family. A less zonked ‘you’, and – hopefully – less guilt to weigh you down.
Let it go…