It’s been a rough couple of years for me, my family and now my friends. The winter Holidays in particular have not been kind. Since dealing with these difficulties has become more and more frequent in my life, I thought I would write a post about dealing with illness. The last few years have given me an awful lot more experience with the topic. That’s not to say that I hadn’t already had more than my share, but the last few years have somehow been a little different. I have more and more often found myself being the “rock” that others are depending on for a wide variety of things. I’m not gonna lie. That’s not an easy thing to deal with. But it is something you can deal with and I thought that I would share some of my thoughts, experiences and tips for anyone else struggling to deal with one of those rough patches in life.
I should first point out that my own health is not very good. For the sake of space, I’m not going to go into much detail (though I may later as that’s a whole different topic), but my biggest most pervasive issues are typically extreme fatigue and relatively unpredictable but intense anxiety. I suppose neither is great when dealing with the health issues of others either. ? That aside, I’ve grown up quite accustomed to dealing with chronic illness. Since before I was born, one of my very close family members has had a number of serious health conditions. I have memories of going to visit at the hospital from a very young age. Perhaps some of my earliest memories actually. Needless to say, I have had a lot of experience with illness – both personally and with family members. I feel that also makes my reactions to people being hospitalized or ill a bit different than those who haven’t grown up with a family member averaging at least once a year in the hospital or seeing ambulances take someone away every couple of years. Despite it being almost normal to me, I still feel as though the past few years have been a bit different and the combination of experiences have given me more insight into how best to cope.
My dad has a theory that I think is particularly applicable in situations of illness – especially when it’s a loved one who is ill. It has to do with worrying, which I think we can all agree is a natural reaction when someone is in hospital. The “philosophy?” Only worry about the things you can do something about. If something is beyond your control, worrying just adds unnecessary stress. That’s not how he puts it, but I’m hoping you get the idea. Yes, it is easier said than done, but so true. Obviously make every effort you can to help when someone else is ill, but don’t sweat the treatment that only the doctor can provide. You can still advocate for the best treatment available, help keep the patient as comfortable as possible, or try to keep their spirits up, but you can’t diagnose and treat the underlying problem. So worry about what you can control. I don’t always succeed at this, but it helps a lot to try. Stress levels are always elevated when someone is not well, but when you focus more on the things you can do to improve the situation like visiting and watching movies or bringing over someone’s favorite blanket, you’ll find that everyone is more comfortable and it’s easier to put that worry to the side.
I think this is perhaps the most important thing to do when anyone is dealing with any life difficulty. That is to keep your sense of humor! There’s something to the saying that “laughter is the best medicine.” Everyone feels better both mentally and physically when they are capable of laughing. Of course there are times when it’s not only inappropriate to laugh, but practically impossible given the circumstances. After less than ideal news has settled in, you will almost always find something humorous in some situation. And let’s face it, there are plenty of medical procedures that may be incredibly unpleasant, but ironically quite funny. A colonoscopy for instance. I mean there’s a tube being stuck up your butt. I’m sure an unpleasant experience, but there’s a way to find humor in it too. And obviously there’s still the general humor from everyday life that it’s still ok to laugh at. Allow yourself permission to laugh as it truly is great for stress, anxiety, worry and your general sanity.
Try to appreciate the person who is ill and spend as much time as you’re able with them. It may be an inconvenience or uncomfortable, but what if that person takes a turn for the worse and can no longer interact…or worse. You will always wish you had spent more time with him or her. I’m not suggesting to spend every waking second with the person (we get to why in a second), but try to spend as much quality time as possible. You will both appreciate it and, who knows, you may learn fascinating things you never would have known otherwise! I would be shocked if there were anyone who said, “Gee I wish I had spent less time with Grandma before she passed.”
That brings me to another really important point. Take time for yourself. No matter who you are, what you do, or how you react to things, this will be difficult. There are going to be more requirements on your time, you will likely be emotionally taxed and you are going to be more tired than usual. You need to be aware of this and, more importantly, realize that if you don’t take good care of yourself, you cannot help the person who is sick very well either. If that means eating out or having frozen meals a bit more often because you just don’t have the energy to make meals from scratch, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you need to cut a visit with the ill person short to have time for a relaxing bath, do it. As with most instances in life, you must always do your best to take care of yourself first.
When It’s Terminal…. Unfortunately I’ve been dealing with this recently too. The best thing I can suggest is just to be there for the person. Whether that’s simply talking with the person, bringing them meals, or driving them to doctor’s appointments. Unfortunately in my case, I don’t live terribly close to the person so about the only thing I can do is talk. I try to check in every so often and just have normal conversations…most of the time. When things get more serious, I try to listen, be empathetic and basically keep myself out of the equation as much as I can. By the same token, that’s not to say that I’m willing or able to drop everything anytime the person needs or wants something, or that I’m always all about the other person’s needs. I try to be realistic as well and make it known that there are things I am unable to do. I feel like it’s unfair to both people to cater to all of the terminally ill person’s wishes. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. I try not to dwell too much on the gravity of the reality of the situation and just enjoy the present. I’m not sure what my advice would be closer to “the end,” but remember that you yourself still have a life that needs you too. Finding a balance between the other person and keeping your own sanity is crucial. I really feel like the best thing to do, at least when dealing with the terminally ill person, is to put your own troubles to the side for a while and be there for the other person, but I also advise that you be realistic, set boundaries and above all else, make sure you don’t forget about yourself as well. To anyone else in this situation, I feel for you. It’s so awful for everyone involved. I really can’t even imagine the difficulty of the person with the illness. I try to keep that in mind as well. I would also add that I try to be optimistic, yet realistic. Remind the person that they’re still here and try to enjoy it as much as possible. Don’t give false hope, but also don’t encourage giving up. It’s a tough balance and I feel like only the individuals in this horrible situation can gauge where the line lies for them. Good luck to any of you dealing with this and my heart goes out to you and your loved ones.
My advice in a nutshell? Take care of yourself so that you can be there for the person, keep your sense of humor and, whatever happens, don’t beat yourself up. That’s my best advice and I hope that it’s helpful for anyone out there dealing with a loved one going through a difficult time. Please add any thoughts, comments or advise that you may have as well because everyone deals with illness differently and the wider the pool of thought, probably the better. Finally, should you be dealing with an ill loved one, you have all of my love and support. My thoughts are with you and may you and your loved one find the best outcome possible…and enjoy your time together in the meantime! Best wishes to all! ❤️