Loving Someone with Chronic Illness

Having a partner or family member who is dealing with any type of chronic illness is difficult. Sometimes you wish you could make them better, so they wouldn’t have to struggle anymore. Sometimes you resent that they need so much care and time—and it’s okay to feel that way, by the way, as long as you aren’t taking it out on them or others.

When you have a loved one who deals with one of the so-called “invisible illnesses,” it can be even more difficult. How can they say they don’t have strength to help clean the house? They look perfectly fine, and they didn’t have any trouble going to the kitchen for a glass of water. How can they say being at a family gathering on a holiday is triggering? My family’s perfectly nice, nothing at all like the one that abused them. How can they spend the entire day in bed and not do anything? There’s so much that has to get done!

People with those illnesses, which include mental illnesses, chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, and others, don’t “look sick.” And because of the nature of those illnesses, sometimes people who have them don’t *feel* sick either. Personally, I have a few “invisible illnesses.” Some days I get up, shower, get dressed, and I’m off to tackle the day, getting more done before bed than my husband says he would be able to do in a week. I walk fairly easily, and I appear, and sometimes even feel, happy.

But other days, the “demons” attack. I feel like the world’s going to end, and I can’t stop crying. I’m in so much pain and having so much trouble with coordination that walking from the bedroom to the bathroom—which is right beside the bedroom—is almost more than I can manage. I can’t leave the house. I force myself to at least be in the living room instead of the bedroom, but that takes so much out of me that I end up dozing on the couch most of the day.

My husband is wonderful on those days. He knows I’m not “faking it” or “lazy” when I ask him to go to the store because I can’t manage leaving the house, or when I ask him to finish mopping the kitchen because I’m too exhausted after only doing a third of it. But it took a while to get on the same page about him helping me with tasks. If I said, “I can’t handle going to the store, but we need things,” he sometimes said, “Then I guess you have to go to the store.” I had to learn to actually ask him to go instead of hinting.

It also took him a while to understand that if I say “I’m in so much pain right now, I hate this,” I’m not asking him to fix it. There isn’t anything he can do about the pain. I’m asking for comfort and for reassurance that I’m not burdening him by asking him to take over doing some of my usual tasks, and now that he realizes that, he’s great about giving me a hug, or walking me to the bedroom and bringing me a glass of water while I settle down to read or sleep.

It isn’t easy having an “invisible illness” (or more than one). It definitely isn’t easy being a loved one of someone who has “invisible illnesses,” something I also know from personal experience since I’m not the only one in my family who has them. But if you work together to figure out what the person with the illnesses needs, and how to meet those needs without sacrificing others’ needs, and if you recognize that at the base, the person with the illnesses most needs love and compassion, it can be managed.

Compatibility

Sometimes when you meet a new person, you feel an instant “click.” This is someone you want to get to know better. Someone you can see being part of your life in one way or another. Someone you believe you’re compatible with.

That someone might be the person you spend the rest of your life with, if you are actually as compatible as you believe the first time you meet. Or even if you don’t feel it at that first meeting. Compatibility doesn’t have to be instant. Sometimes it grows over time, and you end up with a person you might consider your soul mate.

But sometimes it decreases over time. Whether you feel that click the first time you meet or it develops more gradually, as more time passes, you might realize that you and that person aren’t as compatible as you believed. Maybe not at all, or maybe just not in some ways. Those can be some pretty big ways, though, like finding out one of you wants to get married and have kids, while the other is happy just living together.

When compatibility fades into incompatibility, it might mean the end of the relationship if there’s no way to compromise. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to compromise is for one person to completely change who they are or what they want, and that isn’t really fair. (In my opinion it also isn’t really a compromise; compromise means meeting partway, not one person doing all the work while the other stays where they are.)

When you find someone you’re compatible with, it might lead into a lifelong relationship…or it might not. But if you feel that click with someone, it’s worth taking the chance.

Pushing Too Far

In my opinion, trying new things is good. Making changes that benefit you and improve your life is good. Pushing your comfort zones is good.

But there is such a thing as pushing too far, or trying to go too fast, and that can cause problems. Change, even when it’s positive, can be scary and painful, and sometimes if you try to change too much at once, it can backfire on you. Especially if you’re making any of those changes because someone else told you to, and not because you actually see a need to. It’s usually easier to do something of our own volition than because someone else says we have to.

Life is not a stationary thing. From the moment we’re born, we’re learning, growing, and changing. And a lot of us have times in our lives when there are a number of things that all seem to need to change at once. That can be overwhelming, and sometimes it makes us shut down or withdraw from people we care about.

When you have something in your life that’s changing, whether it’s something you’ve chosen to learn, or something about yourself that you want to alter, or something that isn’t entirely within your control but you have to get used to (like a breakup, losing a job, having a child, etc.), if you can take your time, do so. Go as slowly as you’re able to give yourself time to adjust. Be kind to yourself if it takes longer than you’d like. Ask for support from people you trust, even if all they can give you for support is “You can do it.”

Change is difficult, no matter how positive it ultimately turns out to be, and it’s important not to push yourself too far too fast. You can do it, even if it takes longer than you’d like.

Being Overwhelmed

Sometimes it seems like there are just too many things to do and not enough time to do all of them. Or any of them, once in a while.

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of times like that. I had two books release within less than a week, one under each of my two pen names, and that led to trying to scramble to promote both of them. I’ve been trying to help my 17-year-old with college applications and the dreaded financial aid applications, as well as trying to give her moral support about her classwork. I have a couple of writing projects I’m working on, and was just given another by a friend.

And then there’s housework. And appointments. And errands. And… auuughhh!

Fortunately, I have a group of really good friends who’ve had their own “auuughhh!” moments from time to time, and who understand having too much to do. Over the weekend, I reached out to them and asked for whatever help, support, and encouragement they could give. And all of them agreed to help in one way or another, whether it’s helping me break down some large tasks into smaller bits (which is always difficult for me), or being a “brainstorm buddy” for the stories I’m working on, or just reminding me I’m capable of getting these things done and telling me to stop procrastinating.

It isn’t always easy to reach out and ask for help, especially knowing that you aren’t the only one who gets overwhelmed and has a lot to do. But it’s always good to have support, and the people in your life don’t know you need support if you don’t ask.

Dedications

When an author has a book published, many times they’ll include a dedication at the beginning. This might be to a friend, a family member, fellow authors who were supportive, their editor…any number of people. The point is for them to let not only that person/those people know they’re valued, but to let readers know as well.

I have several books that are dedicated to my husband. He’s the one whose emotional–and often, financial–support has made it possible for me to write and get published. Under my YA pen name, I have books dedicated to my kids and a few of their friends who inspired the stories or asked me to write something specific.

One of my Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat books, Tempeh for Two (the final in the series) is dedicated to my friend Paul, who had read the previous books in the series and for whom I was struggling to come up with a holiday gift. That book was my 2013 holiday gift to him, with the dedication and the inclusion of a character, Paul Drake, who was based on him.

Unfortunately, I have other books that are dedicated to people who are no longer in my life. One of those is Dawn Over Dayfield, which releases March 1 from DSP Publications. A little over a year ago, my then-boyfriend (I’m polyamorous, for those who don’t know; I’m married but sometimes also am involved with others, and my husband is on board with it) and I were talking about a story I wanted to write. He and I came up with the town of Dayfield, inspired partly by towns in which he’d lived growing up. He helped me with historical research about aspects I wanted to include in the story, and he cheered me on as I wrote it and beta read it before I sent it to the publisher.

He broke up with me in August, and I’ve only spoken to him a couple of times since, most recently in October. Which means the release of Dawn Over Dayfield is going to be a little bittersweet. Instead of being able to celebrate with him as I’d hoped, I’ll be sitting here wondering if he even remembers it’s being released. The book is dedicated to him, by the nickname I gave him when we were seeing each other, but he’s probably not going to know it.

Even so, he contributed a lot to the writing of the book, and I don’t regret the dedication. Maybe someday, he’ll see it.

Giving an Apology

Over the weekend, my kids (ages 17 and 20, so not exactly kids anymore if you want to be technical) had a conflict that left both of them feeling hurt and angry. This post is essentially what I told the 20-year-old as they were trying to get over the situation.

Apologizing to someone doesn’t always mean you’ve done something wrong. It doesn’t mean you *think* you’ve done something wrong, or that you agree with their perspective.

Sometimes an apology is best translated as “I know I did something that hurt you (or made you angry, or upset you, or whatever), and I regret making you feel that way.”

In the particular conflict in my household, the 20-year-old had said they would do something with the 17-year-old.  The 20-year-old woke up feeling ill and with a fairly high fever, so wasn’t up to doing what they’d said they would do. The 17-year-old was angry and disappointed about this, with the result that she didn’t speak to the 20-year-old much of the rest of the day. The 20-year-old was having a hard time with it, so I asked if they’d apologized to their sister.

“No,” they said. “Why should I apologize? I can’t help being sick.”

That was when I explained my thoughts on apologizing. They wouldn’t be telling their sister they were sorry for being sick. They wouldn’t be agreeing with their sister’s reaction. They would just be acknowledging that they recognize how their sister feels and regret causing her to feel that way. I told them, “Don’t even make an excuse or try to explain. Just say ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t go with you’ and leave her alone.”

They didn’t seem to like the idea, because to them, apology means “I was wrong and you were right.” But they gave it a try anyway. As I told them, when there’s a conflict, someone has to be the first to say they’re sorry, or nothing gets resolved. Fortunately, this got resolved.

“I’m Not Going Anywhere”

In a relationship, one of the scariest possibilities is that of your partner leaving. For some of us with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, that fear can be particularly huge. Depression tells us we aren’t worth being with or don’t deserve our partner. Anxiety magnifies every small concern into a major fear. And some of us may have had previous partners say they couldn’t handle our “issues” and walk away.

Personally, I know I’m not the easiest partner to have. Sometimes I wouldn’t want to be around me, so I can’t understand why anyone else would. And I have had partners break up with me in part or in whole because they couldn’t deal with the depressive episodes, anxiety attacks, and/or PTSD meltdowns. (That isn’t something I suspect. It’s something those partners told me.) But I also have a husband who’s stuck it out for seven and a half years. And I have another partner who just last week, seeing me having an anxiety attack, said, “I’m going to tell you this right now. I know you’re afraid I’ll leave, because you’ve told me others have left you because of your anxiety. But I am not going anywhere.”

Those words meant everything. Once I got to a point where I was able to believe them.

When you’re in a relationship with someone who has mental health issues, it isn’t always smooth sailing. No matter how well-managed the illnesses are–and please keep in mind, these are ILLNESSES, not choices–by either medication, therapy, or both, there will be times when something flares up and things get rough. Those are the times when it’s most important to assure your partner that you’re there for them, that you aren’t going anywhere. And they’re the times when it will be the hardest for your partner to believe you. But they will try to believe, and hopefully you won’t go anywhere.

 

Relationship Teamwork

When you’re in a relationship and a problem comes up, sometimes it seems difficult to work together to solve it. Struggles with finances, with personal space or time together or apart, disagreements about kids…there are a number of issues that can arise in a committed relationship, and if the people involved have different opinions or feel overwhelmed, they might argue or stop discussing the problem altogether. Which, of course, doesn’t solve anything.

My husband likes to say that since we’re married, we’re a team. Even when things are complicated, or when we’re angry with each other about an issue or a difference in the way we choose to handle something, we’re still together, and that means we work together. I will admit there have been times when I’ve felt like we’re on opposing teams. Some issues are far more difficult than others. But so far, we’ve always managed to get back on the same side and solve the problem.

It isn’t always easy to function as a team with your partner(s). When conflicts arise, the last thing you might want to do is sit down and have a calm, civilized discussion with the person who you see as contributing to–or ignoring–the situation. But it’s important to remember that you chose to be on the same team, and to work together to keep things running smoothly.

The Holiday Season

For those who observe certain holidays, we’re heading into that season. The US Thanksgiving holiday is toward the end of this month, and Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa, among others, occur in December.

Some of us grew up celebrating one or more of these holidays, and for some, it wasn’t always a pleasant experience. Family conflicts often become worse and/or more frequent around this time of year, partly because of the stress of large gatherings and large expenses, and, in the northern hemisphere, partly because daylight hours are shorter and the darkness can affect moods.

In some places, people are expected to be all about family and celebrations at this time of year, but for some of us, that isn’t always possible or beneficial. Personally, I deal each year with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression caused by the lack of daylight, along with my usual mental health issues. In addition, when I was a child and teen, as well as during my first marriage, the holidays were a very stressful time of year in my home. It’s difficult for me to feel joyful about the holidays, though for the past several years my kids have helped by taking over the decorating and sharing their excitement.

If you have a tough time with holidays, be gentle with yourself. Try to minimize your responsibilities as far as shopping and hosting. Lean on friends and family, or if possible and necessary seek professional help. Everyone needs a boost sometimes, and this time of year can definitely require a boost.

Worried

On Friday, I briefly met up with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of months. He had something of mine that I’d asked to get back, and he couldn’t stay to talk because he was in the middle of a time-sensitive project at work. I appreciated that he was willing to even take the time to meet me at all, though it might have been nice to have a bit of conversation with him since we haven’t talked since the last time we saw each other.

He looked different from the last time I saw him, though. It’s hard to explain. He was always a fairly happy, high-energy kind of guy, but Friday he appeared weary. Not just physically tired, but completely “I need a break and I’m never going to get one” weary. Even when he smiled at me, it was a tired smile.

Even though he and I don’t interact much anymore, he’s still my friend and still matters to me. And, partly because friends are important to me and likely partly because I have anxiety disorder, I worry about the people who matter to me. All I can do right now is hope that he’s okay, and that if he isn’t, he’ll reach out to me for support as he’s done in the past. Meanwhile, I’m just going to keep him in my thoughts and hope that if things aren’t okay for him right now, they will be.