Many of us living with SMA can identify with a recurring pattern of thought that I have named my “Burden Complex.” It’s an idea that I’ve written about at length, but I believe it’s such a common part of growing up with SMA that it’s worth mentioning again.
“My Burden Complex was simple: growing up, from the ages of about 10 to 25, there were times when asking for help from others created a feeling of immense guilt within me.”
I felt like I was bothering people. I felt like I needed to minimize my needs in order to be less of a burden to my loved ones around me. It wasn’t a constant feeling, but it was certainly hard to deal with when it did arise. These challenging emotions caused me to repeat a similar phrase when asking for help, “I’m sorry, but…”
“I’m sorry, but could I have another sip of my drink?”
“I’m sorry, but could I use the bathroom?”
My apologies were often met with the same reaction. My loved ones or friends would say, “You don’t need to be sorry, I’m happy to help!” Still, this constant reassurance did very little to alleviate my burdensome feelings.
It wasn’t until I met (and fell madly in love with) my fiancée, Hannah, that I was able to truly say goodbye to saying sorry. With a seemingly simple question, Hannah helped me better understand my Burden Complex, and thus, move on from it.
The conversation went something like this…
“Hey Hannah, sorry but can you grab me a snack?”
“Sure, my handsome and intelligent and funny Shane, but you don’t need to apologize. You know I love helping you.”
“I know, but what if you’re just saying that because it would be mean not to say it?” (This was a classic way that my Burden Complex would negate the reassurances from others.)
“Do you enjoy being my boyfriend?”
“What? Yes, obviously.”
“But what if you’re just saying that to be nice?”
“Of course I’m not! I love you!”
“Do you see how that feels? To be questioned about something that you obviously mean whole-heartedly?”
“And just like that, it clicked. I would never lie to Hannah about my feelings towards her, so why would I question her reassurances about my Burden Complex?”
This is obviously a simplification of a healing process that takes time. Even today, I have moments where I catch myself thinking of myself as a burden. But by stopping myself from apologizing for every request and reminding myself that loved ones have no reason to lie about their willingness to help me, I’ve made great progress in seeing myself and my needs in a healthier way.