Relationships, Part 58: When Illness Take Over: Getting Help
In the last few posts, we’ve been seeing what happens when an illness takes over a relationship. The people in the relationship disappear and the needs of the illness consume everything. If you’re the person with the illness, your job is to recover. If you’re the other person, your job is to recognize the diseased portion of the relationship, stay connected with the healthy parts, and get help.
Once an illness begins to take over a relationship, never try to take care of your sick partner yourself. It’s too dangerous. It took possession of your loved one and now it’s coming for you. You need someone objective, preferably someone who understands the illness and its effect on relationships. Someone who isn’t afraid to tell the hard truth, but also someone who can say it delicately so people can listen.
It might be obvious that a sick person needs a doctor, but when illness is in charge, sick people don’t go. Illness does not like what doctors have to say. Illness would rather be in denial, so that it can work its evil in secret. (Although there are some special conditions like hypochondria and addiction to prescription medication that try to enlist doctors in the pathology.) You can tell how much your loved one has succumbed to the illness by how cooperatively he works with the people meant to help him. If it seems like he’s always fighting with them, it’s really the illness trying to defend itself.
If the sick person is working with a doctor, then the non-ill partner needs to, also. The non-ill partner needs to understand the illness and treatment. The doctor may need information about the condition that only the non-ill partner can provide. You, your partner, and the professionals need to form a team that works together, not in isolation from each other.
There are several factors that get in the way of a treatment team effectively working together.
The first is when the people who are supposed to treat the illness fall under its spell. Anyone who has ever been around an anxious person knows that anxiety is contagious. People dealing with the depressed often fall into despair. It’s easy to get inflexible when you try to cope with a rigid person. Husbands of addicts have been known to score drugs for their darlings, to keep them safe. Wives will wait on a husband hand and foot when he is supposed to get up and be active himself. Divisions are created between the people who are attempting to treat the illness and the ones facilitating it.
The second most common barrier is put up by partners who attempt to protect the sanctity of their marriage. They believe it’s a betrayal of their partner to get help, a violation of boundaries. To be sure, some ill partners will see it that way. He may be angry if you tell on him. However, the sanctity of the marriage has already been violated when the illness moved in and refused to leave. You’re not telling on him, you are informing on the illness. You’re not betraying your loved one when you send him to the emergency room, suicidal; you’re protecting him from a common enemy that has him bamboozled.
If your ill partner will get help to combat his illness, that’s very good. If she won’t, then that should not stop you from getting help yourself. Remember, you’re next in line to succumb to the madness. Meet your friend for coffee, unload to your family, make an appointment with that counselor, if only so you can keep things straight and stay in contact with a rational world.