Dealing with Illness and Disability in a Loved One

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There are so many invisible victims in the shadow of suffering.  It has taken me many years, too many years in fact, to realize just how difficult it must be for those of you that make up mysupport system, those of you who must watch me fall time and time again.  I don’t have much experience being on that side of the fence, but I am capable of recognizing that it would be devastating and scary as hell.  Our story is no different from yours or your neighbor’s or your great uncle’s in Arkansas.  At some point in your life you or someone you love will fall down, and you’ll have to be the one to help them back up.  Unfortunately, bad fortune is universal,and it certainly doesn’t play favorites.

Being the rock can be an intimidating and slightly impossible task at first glance.  Over the years, I’ve figured out what kind of support has been helpful to me and what kind of support has been destructive.  Today I put together five tips for dealing with an illness or disability in someone you love.  Hopefully you won’t ever have to use these.  But if one day these tips do apply, I hope that these tips will make that task of being the rock a little bit less daunting.  Enjoy!

  1. Normalize the situation as much as you can.  When you get sick, it feels like your life is slipping out of control.  Things change, and they change very quickly.  Try to treat your loved one the same way you always have.  Dole out special treatment only as much as is necessary.  Make jokes to make light of the situation.  Do whatever you can to make that person feel like they can at least count on your relationship to remain consistent even if everything else is falling apart.
  2. Don’t take it personally!  Sickness isn’t very consistent, and eventually, a particularly bad day will fall on a special event, like your birthday.  Try not to take it personally if and when that does happen.  As cliché as it sounds, its really not you.  Save yourself the pain and just accept it now: it was not intentional, and the person probably feels really terrible about it.
  3. Take it one day at a time.  As I just mentioned, consistency isn’t really sickness’ strong suit.  At least for me, it’s been all over the map.  That fluctuation calls for a flexible attitude on your part.  That means that you may need to give a few extra compliments one day.  You may need to push me past my limits on another day.  Tailor your attitude and your treatment for what is present at that moment.
  4. Acknowledge the bad hand that’s been dealt.  Sometimes things just suck.  There’s no nice way to put it.  Bad things happen to good people, and life gives you obstacles that you don’t feel like learning from.  Both you and the person who is ill are being faced with terribly difficult hurdles.  You cannot deal with them until you acknowledge them.  You cannot climb over a wall if you pretend like it doesn’t exist.
  5. Take time for yourself.  If there was one tip that you take away from this article, I hope that it will be this one.  Its really, really easy to lose yourself when someone you love is sick.  You’re suddenly more of a caretaker than a partner, and you can forget who you are and why you’re here quicker than you can blink.  In order to stay whole, you need to take the time to tend to yourself.  Take the time to be a person, rather than a caretaker.  Pursue your own interests.  Hang out with your friends.  Your job is to be the rock, and that’s not fair but that is the reality.  In order to fulfill that duty, you need to take the time for yourself in order to glue all of the broken pieces back together again.

Like I said, I’m not really an expert on the subject, but the things above have dug me and my loved ones out of some pretty nasty situations.  They have helped us to turn a terrible situation into something beautiful.  I hope that you never have to use any of these tips, but if you do, maybe it will make your journey a little bit more seamless than mine was.  If you have any questions about dealing with a loved one’s illness or disability, just let me know and I will help you figure it out to the best of my ability!

Food for thought: The most successful people don’t have the prettiest stories.  Bad things have happened, and they have found a way to channel that negativity and pain into creating something beautiful and meaningful.  Your job as the support system for a suffering loved one is to help them get from point A to point B.  Your job is to help them to make their story into something beautiful when they don’t know if they can do so on their own.  It is a tall order, and that is pressure that none of us deserve.  But you have been thrust into a situation where you can either back away or you can step up and make something terrible into something magnificent.  Don’t back away from that challenge, as scary as it may seem right now.  Everything will be okay, and it will be worth it in the end.

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