Read This If You Feel Like A Burden!
Have you ever felt like a burden? Maybe it's because you have a chronic illness or have allergies that mean your friends have to change their food plans for you. I have a way to make you feel better
You are reading the FREE version of Growth Spurts. If you enjoy my community, want more of it and access to me as your personal life coach through my column Dear Michelle, all my book reviews and recommendations, the first to know about any announcements and more private and personal articles about my life then you can sign up for as little as £1.10 a week with an annual subscription. A paid subscription is also just a fab way to thank me for all the free content I put out on here and social media and allows me to keep going. Thank you!
My first memory of feeling like a burden was when I was 11 years old. I was in my first year at boarding school and I had been having debilitating migraines for weeks. We would later find out that it was a brain tumour and the tube in my neck draining the water to my brain had broken but first I had to endure the pain for two months. I spent most of the month in San (short for sanitarium and was the school’s medical centre) but one of the teachers had suspected I was lying and so thought it would be better if I returned to my own dorm. I did and as exams were the following week, I spent weeks in bed revising while lying down.
It was a really sunny day and all my friends had gone outside to play. One of my friends said she would sit with me and we could revise together. It was such a sweet gesture but instead, all I felt was guilt. I hated stopping my friend from going outside, I hated that I wasn’t outside myself but most of all, I hated that I was such a burden and I couldn’t just be normal!
Growth Spurts with Michelle Elman is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
This might have been my first memory of being a burden but it certainly wasn’t my last and this feeling would plague me my whole life, until I’m *slightly* ashamed to say only as recently as last year. I always felt like a burden specifically in relation to illness and it was always when it came to dating or my friendships because I think after all, family have a sense of obligation to look after you. Society tells you that’s their job. Friends and romantic partners aren’t always forever though.
The first thing I realised is if you have ever felt this way, it is not your fault. Society teaches us that we are burdens. Think about how we praise those who are married to anyone who is disabled. Think about how the disabled person is told how lucky they are to find such a good person. Why do we frame that someone is such a good person to stick with another through illness and disability? After all, don’t the wedding vows literally say ‘for sickness or in health’?
For you, feeling like a burden might not be in relation to illness, it could be when you are texting your friends or maybe you were taught to feel that way in your childhood by your parents. Sometimes people will just feel like a burden to everyone around them regardless of the reason. Whatever the reason that you feel like a burden, it is often linked to a lack of self-esteem both believing that you do not deserve help and that you are an inconvenience to spend time and energy on. So here are some tips to get you feeling a little better.
Everyone has a thing
If your thing is illness, whether it’s mental or physical, the world has taught you that you are more ‘difficult’ than others. More difficult to be friends with, more difficult to be in a relationship with, more difficult to be a sibling of… the list goes on. The reality is though, your ‘thing’ might be an illness but everyone has something that requires more time and energy. For example, if you are going through grief, or job loss or are a new parent, you will need more support than you previously have. These are things everyone goes through and just because everyone doesn’t go through what you go through, doesn’t mean they don’t need that extra help for the other things that life throws at us.
When you ask for help, you are not just taking
Relationships are two ways. When you ask for help and support, it is not a one-way relationship because you are right if you are always taking, taking, taking, that would probably get exhausting. There are people who do that and it’s got nothing to do with illness or asking for help, there are people who just do that because the people in their lives become the people they take advantage of. If you are worrying about being a burden, you most definitely are not one of those people. People like that don’t worry about being a burden! In your case, your relationship is mutual because whilst you might need more support right now, there will be a time when they need support and you will be there in the way you can. Even if you can’t be there in the exact same way they can, it still is an equal relationship because you are reciprocating in love and care.
Don’t surround yourself with people who make you feel like a burden
You didn’t learn this pattern of thinking by accident. I mentioned earlier that some people learn it via their parents. It’s not by them actually saying you are a burden but instead more subtle things like reminders of how much they do for you or whenever you ask for help, it is held over your head until you repay the favour in a tit-for-tat way that teaches you that people don’t just do things because they love you, care about you and out of the kindness of their heart. For me, it was illness and largely from school. In my secondary school, my illness was made such a big deal. I remember in Year 9 we had to create a group dance, and when we were choreographing the routine, someone suggested we all did a forward roll on our heads. I am not allowed to do anything that puts my head upside down, I voiced that and in return, I got sighs, and comments about how we were going to lose because of me. Decent people would have not made it a big deal because it wasn’t a big deal! I mean, we even won with me being the only person not doing one and twirling in the centre instead. If you can’t cut these people out of your life, then create as much distance as possible because it is impossible to grow self-esteem if you are treated like shit.
If you feel like a burden, communicate it
Feeling like a burden is a very heavy feeling and it can incorporate a lot of shame. Shame breeds of silence and therefore you will have a strong urge to vocalise it to someone else. You don’t have to use the word ‘burden’ - I get it, it’s a heavy word - but you can say something like this:
‘Hey! I feel so bad you have to keep looking after me. I am worried I am negative to be around at the moment and that I am bringing you down too. I just want to acknowledge how much you have been there for me lately and I really appreciate all you are doing. It has made this period in my life so much easier!’
Anytime I feel like a burden, I vocalise it and now I am surrounded by people in my life, whose go-to response is something like “All I care about is that you are OK” which is the way it should be!
Be vulnerable enough to show all of you!
As I said at the start, it took me a long time to fully heal this thought in my head. I’ve definitely been working away at it for years, and even a decade ago, could recognise things like that dance routine were not my fault and that they should have felt shame, not me. Why it took longer to heal the last few fragments is over the last few years, especially living alone, I have become hyperindependent around illness and if people don’t know they can’t help you. That is, until I got into a relationship and it became impossible to hide, especially as we spent more and more time together and he would be at mine for over a week at times. In the first year of our relationship, I had the worst health I had had in over a decade. Cue MRIs, CT scans and non-stop doctor’s appointments with my neurosurgeon. It was confidence-building however that the more I shared about this, the more unphased he was about it. Of course, he cared, he hated seeing me in pain but was he scared or intimidated? No, unphased. He was my rock through this period. The final weight on my chest left though, one afternoon after an MRI. He couldn’t come because he was at work, he said he’d try to leave as soon as he could and so he entered to me in the shower sobbing. I had music on so didn’t hear him come in and screamed when I saw a dark human figure outside my shower and despite me shrieking in his ear, he got me out of the shower and hugged me soaking wet. He had seen me at my lowest and yet again, a pillar of strength.
When I found someone who saw all of me and not just the illness side of me it was life-changing. You are more than whatever makes you feel like a burden!
Lots of love,
I talk a lot more about how the differences we worry about, whether that’s illness, race, disability or size, don’t have to affect our love lives in my book that came out earlier this year - The Selfish Romantic!