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Is It My Fault That I’m Sick?

why-meWhy me?

Almost all the cancer and chronic illness patients I ever worked with wondered if there was something they may have done to cause their cancer, autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative disease, or other medical condition.

It won’t happen to me because I eat right and exercise.

Co-workers, friends, and family members often feel vulnerable when someone they know well is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. This is especially true when they know that the person lived a reasonably healthy lifestyle. It soon dawns on them that if such a healthy person could be diagnosed with an advanced cancer, it could happen to anyone and they could be next.

They must have been eating wrong or were exposed to some toxin.

Then come the questions, often directed to the individual or to that person’s family in an effort to identify some factor that may have caused the disease. In querying the individual and family, the hope is that by identifying a cause, they can feel safe if the putative cause doesn’t in any way relate to them.

docThere is often a smoking gun, but often there is none.

Some people do indeed engage in behaviors that increase the odds of getting sick, such as smoking, using recreational drugs (including too much alcohol and even too much caffeine), eating an unhealthy diet, overeating, not exercising, not getting enough sleep, not getting proper medical care, and not managing chronic debilitating stress. These behaviors, when they are long-standing, weaken immune and endocrine function, and interfere in various ways with every single organ system, thereby increasing the odds of getting sick and dying at a younger age.

However, the vast majority of patients I worked with had practiced reasonably healthy behaviors, yet they had serious, debilitating, and sometimes life-threatening medical conditions, such as cancer.

I personally live with several chronic medical conditions despite always living a healthy lifestyle.

The cause of most disease commonly remains a mystery due to all the variables and complexity that make it impossible to definitively identify the actual cause. It is important to understand a little of the complexity regarding potential causes, or etiology, of disease in order to support health as much as possible.

The Actual Causes of Disease

Disease is caused by chronic physiological stress, such as a chronic inflammation, which often leads to cancer. Physiological stress is triggered by a multitude of factors, such as:

  • Physical trauma
  • Infection from viruses
  • Infection from bacteria
  • Infection from fungi
  • Infection from parasites
  • Adverse reactions to prescription drugs
  • Exposure to environmental toxins
  • Exposure to endogenously produced toxins
  • Temperature extremes.
  • Genetic predisposition to disease
  • Epigenetic events
  • Unhealthy behavior
  • An endless number of pathophysiological processes.
  • Often, disease is the result of an unfortunate confluence of more than one of those physiological stressors.

For a continuation of this topic, see my next article, entitled: Am I Literally Killing Myself with Stress?


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Is It My Fault That I’m Sick?

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Berkelhammer is a retired mind-body medicine psychologist. He writes about mindfulness-based practices with a unique emphasis on optimization of wellbeing and health. Dr. Berkelhammer also lectures at San Francisco State University and UC San Francisco, and is currently teaching a class in Marin County through College of Marin. He is the author of the book "In Your Own Hands; New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions".

See his extensive website:

In Your Own Hands: Mindfulness-Based Practices to Optimize Wellbeing - College of Marin Community Education

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APA Reference
Berkelhammer, D. (2015). Is It My Fault That I’m Sick?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 25, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 Apr 2015
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