When You Feel Like A Failure

Chronic illness causes you to drop balls. Because of a constant lack of energy and ongoing weakness, things just don’t get done. Not because you’re not trying, of course, but because you just don’t have the strength. When you start dropping balls, you feel like a complete failure, as a spouse, parent, employee, and friend.

It is a hard feeling to live with. I don’t like being a ball-dropper. My husband and kids don’t care much for it, either. Employers definitely don’t like it!

So, what do you do about this all-too-common feeling?

Here are some practical suggestions:

1.    Adjust your expectations so they are realistic with your abilities. Consider the fact that you may have expectations of yourself that others do not. You may feel that you have to cook a hot meal from scratch every night because your mother did it, but your spouse probably doesn’t expect that every night. (If he/she does have that expectation, have a discussion about what is realistic for your energy level.) Make things easier on yourself. Get take-out, or if they are old enough, let the kids make chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese. Cook when you feel well enough to do it, and don’t guilt yourself for not cooking on the nights you just can’t.
2.    Educate your family and friends about your abilities, and especially your current pain level. Since they can’t see how you feel, tell them how you feel in terms they can understand. You might want to use the 1-10 number system to communicate how well you feel each day. They will probably like this system since they will know what to expect each day, especially if it is a high pain and low energy day.
3.    Ask for help when you need it. There is nothing wrong with the spouse and kids helping with chores, dinner, and laundry! Make a list of “things to be done by whom” so responsibilities are more evenly distributed, especially if you work outside the home.
4.    Plan rest into your schedule, including short naps, days off, and recovery time for when you have to push through. Be realistic about your abilities or lack thereof. Especially be realistic about your need for rest and recuperation.
5.    Try not to “push through” on a regular basis. “Pushing through” is my term for when you force yourself to keep going despite red flags that you are doing too much. These red flags may come from your own body, your spouse, your friends, or even your kids if they see you over-doing it. Listen to those red flags! Pushing through is sometimes necessary for emergencies and unexpected responsibilities, but doing this on a regular basis will backfire and require more recovery time than normal.
6.    Make a “daily tasks” schedule for yourself that is realistic. Only put a couple chores/activities on each day’s schedule. Put a star by the most important task, and a notation for one that can be pushed to the next day if need be. If you tend to over-schedule yourself, be purposeful about putting 1-2 fewer activities on the list that you think you can accomplish. Something always comes up to complicate your plans, so plan for mishaps and unexpected things, especially if you have small children. Put naps, days off, and recovery days on the schedule, too. Also, include time for your “quiet time” with God, and other important self-care activities, like exercise. Don’t forget time for bill-paying, and other tasks that are not part of a daily routine.
7.    Do just a few small things every day to put you ahead of the game: load the dishwasher, do one load of laundry, and make the bed. It is amazing how doing just a few small things each day will make you feel more on top of your game! Do things in 15 minute increments of time so that you don’t over do it and end up more exhausted than when you started. After several episodes of 15-minute tasks are done (with rest periods in between), you will find that you actually have gotten some tasks scratched off your to-do list without feeling too terribly bad in the process.
8.    Cut things out of your schedule that you don’t truly enjoy, especially if they are not important. Doing things we don’t want to do are part of normal adult life, but doing this on a regular basis will steal your joy. Determine what is really important to you, and focus your energy there.
9.    Plan fun activities, especially if you have kids. Nurture the relationships that are most important to you. Don’t forget date nights and alone time with your spouse. It doesn’t take long for relationships to deteriorate when they are neglected.
10.    Try to organize and streamline as much as possible. Do your grocery shopping online, and make use of the pick-up or delivery option if your local store offers this. File your emails and important papers as soon as you see them. Take care of school papers, phone calls, etc. as soon as you become aware them. Try not to let things pile up, as those piles tend to become large and overwhelming very quickly. Only touch things once. For instance, when you finish drying a load of laundry, don’t keep moving the pile. Only touch it once–fold those clothes and put them away.
11.    When you do drop a ball, ask for forgiveness (and don’t forget to forgive yourself, too). The ability to extending grace and forgiveness to others and yourself is an important life skill. Think of how you might teach your child about the importance of being able to accept their limitations and extend forgiveness to themselves when they fail. You want your children to learn these things so they don’t get stone-walled by failure, right? It is just as important for you to be able to do the same for yourself. Failure is a part of life, and it is one of the ways we learn how to succeed, so don’t be devastated and overwhelmed by your own failure. Disappointment in yourself is understandable, but don’t let it overpower your ability to move forward. It is important to learn to extend grace to yourself and let that disappointment go.

Grace is a concept that originated with God Himself. It does not come naturally to us. We must practice extending it to ourselves and to others. When I struggle with this, it helps me to remember that when we fail, God PROMISES forgiveness (see 1 John 1:9).

God also says that when failure and sin abound, grace grows to fit the failure (see Romans 5:20). Did you know that? God’s grace grows to fit our failures. When the failures get bigger, grace also gets bigger. So let grace towards yourself also grow to fit your failures and disappointments with yourself. As you practice this on a regular basis, you will get better at it, and it will begin to become second nature.

Ask God for help with this. He wants us to learn to live a grace-filled life. He doesn’t want us to feel constantly over-shadowed by guilt and shame. After all, Jesus died to remove guilt and shame from us, so don’t keep dumping on yourself what Jesus died to remove! When you let the grace of God abound in your life, you will begin to experience more joy. As you begin to incorporate some of the above suggestions into your life, your capacity for even more joy will increase.

Share in the comments which suggestion from the above list will help you the most. Do you have any other suggestions to help deal with feelings of failure? Please share those, too!

Let joy begin!


Disclaimer: The author and God-Living with Chronic Illness do not receive any compensation for references to specific people, books or websites. The ideas posted are not intended as medical advice and should not be taken as such in place of your physician’s recommendations. You are welcome to share this post to those you know that may benefit from reading it, but please respect the copyright privileges of the author.


Laurie Miller is a wife, mom, nurse, and patient who lives with chronic illness and pain.  She blogs at God-Living with Chronic Illness, a website dedicated to providing spiritual encouragement and resources for those living with chronic pain or illness. She is also a chronic illness coach who provides chronic illness education and guidance to help people learn to manage their chronic illnesses and find a level of health they haven’t been able to achieve on their own. For more information about coaching opportunities, contact Laurie at Godlivinggirl1@gmail.com.




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