Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Marriage and Chronic Illness: Sucking

A few weeks ago, I was over on the lovely blog Queen of Optimism (see sidebar for link) talking about how to explain chronic illness to those who are in good health.

Frankly, I tire of trying to educate people so I can be a bit bitchy about it. Further, I have the good luck as well as ill fortune to be married to the healthiest man on earth.

A man so healthy, that when we all had a terrible stomach flu during the toddler's first year, he wondered if he was going to die.

From the stomach flu.



I still laugh to this day thinking about it. Granted, it was a truly horrid stomach flu. Like a category five hurricane in our intestines. I threw up about 40-50 times in 8 hours and had black eyes from burst blood vessels, but having been through what I've been through medically, I knew the stomach flu was nothing other than a temporary annoyance.

My hubby was planning his funeral. I was still breastfeeding 24/7.

So, yeah, how do I explain chronic illness to someone like that?

Or when it is stressing our marriage?

See, sometimes the hubby perceives me to not be carrying my weight. True, I am not the brawn of our relationship, I am the brains. So the work I do of planning, organizing, putting together, taking apart, reorganizing etc... is kind of invisible. Existential sometimes as well.

Why, yes, I am the Godot everyone is waiting on.

The hubby knocks down a wall to make a bedroom or nails some cedar down to make a deck, both activities that create longstanding witness to his work. Then he looks around and thinks, 'huh, what the hell has Pissed Off Patient done lately?'

My work is constantly undone, a perpetual motion machine. I load the dishwasher only to still find dishes in the sink. I clean the bathroom only to find a certain small toddler's finger prints everywhere. In Crayola blue.

Do I take lots of breaks? Sure. I need them. But dinner is on the table, dammit.

Do I care if there are dirty dishes? No, not really. I've recognized I am not going to win that particular race. So I clean as I can and then I just don't worry about it. This is a philosophy that works well with chronic illness.

Sometimes I'd like to see how the Hubby would like it if his deck randomly disassembled without warning. Given his Type A personality, I bet it would give him a facial twitch.

So when he gets cranky about me doing or not doing xyz, I have a few different ways of describing the mountain I have to climb to do the simplest things.

1. Remember the last time you were so sick you couldn't get out of bed? Now, imagine if that's how you felt every day and you still got up, got dressed and did everything you were supposed to.

2.Someday you'll get sick. Disease comes for us all. Someday you'll be sick and you'll wonder how I ever did anything at all.

3. And last, but not least, a personal anecdote. First a set up: Apparently, having small children means vomiting mightily at least once a year. We have puked every year since the toddler was born. So this year, the hubby had the stomach flu and was coddled by yours truly.

Just as he got better, I got sick...on a weekday. On top of the stomach flu, my adrenal glands were not functioning well. So hubby went to work because why, I don't know. I was left puking and feeling like I was going to pass out (thanks to the adrenal glands) while parenting a small child who had broken the baby gate. This effectively meant no lounging on the couch for me because I had to compensate for the broken baby gate.

This anecdote makes the hubby stop, think, and readjust his attitude.

The thing is, I am quite strong and determined and I push through a hell of a lot that would flatten a lesser person. Chronic illness toughened me to where it was no big deal to have the stomach flu, which is kind of a saving grace considering how the hubby handles being sick.

One of us has to suck it up.


  1. I adore this post. I've read it five times in a row. You have such a talent for choosing just the right words to convey both complex and less complex subjects. Also, you suck it up very well.

    This must be some sort of husband disorder. Because I'm sick, anything my husband does is a HUGE deal as if I couldn't do it. And perhaps I couldn't but that doesn't mean I didn't do at least my fair share of other tasks. Time to start a support group! ;) I so enjot your blog. Can you add a subscribe by email function??

  2. Very well, written. I understand your frustration. While I am still single, my best friend often asks the same kinds of things of me. I amidst an nasty asthma flare while on prednisone have had to take care of him when he had a bad cold. Oh well someday his ignoring his own asthma will catch up with him. Keep on Keeping on!

  3. I LOVE the part about how would he feel if the deck had to repeatedly be reassembled. Sometimes, they have their projects to distract them, but we are facing a reality that is not as easily distracted. I have Addison's disease and I guarantee, I'd be out painting our two-story house if my body would keep up. Being "stuck" in our non-cooperative body is not easy to explain. I definitely understand your frustration. Great post!!
    Lana C.

  4. Oh the never ending pile of dirty dishes, will it ever end or clean themselves? Probably the day we all miraculously get better.
    I'm glad someone else understands the importance of taking breaks. At home my family will often get frustrated when I have to sit down in the middle of a task - someone will normally take over and then complain about it later. Well, if they had given me a 10 minute break I would have finished it, just because I'm tired doesn't mean you need to jump in and save the day (only if I ask you to).


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