When Your Partner Is Constantly Worried You Will Die From Your Chronic Illness
“I’m just not 100 percent sure, that’s all.”
“Sure of what?”
“Whether it’ll just, you know, stop. What if it does?”
What if my heart just stops? I could be out on my measly 15-minute walk, all alone, and it could just go out of control like it’s never been out of control before and then explode inside my chest and I die.
What if I just quietly slip away in my sleep and everyone thinks I’m sleeping in but I’m not – I’m actually dead?
What if we’re overseas or in the city or in the bush somewhere and something happens and there is no help around and we try to call them but it’s too late and I die?
Because what if. And what if. And what if.
I can go to town on thoughts like these. When I was a patient in the acute cardiac ward waiting for some answers, I used my overactive imagination to dream all kinds of terrible-awful-what-if scenarios. There is no limit to them, if you think about it. But since I got home and I connected with some other POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) people online, my anxiety over suddenly dropping dead has almost (but not completely) disappeared. At my last appointment, I tested the waters of my anxiety with my GP. Dipped my toe in, if you will.
“So,” I said, trying to look casual in front of Dr. Movie-Star-Handsome. “Let’s say I’m out on my walk, and my heart rate does its stupid thing where it goes from 90 to 160.”
He nodded and blinked his Movie Star eyes. “Yes…”
“What happens if it doesn’t stop going up? Do I pass out? Or do I, well, die?”
I won’t bore you with his sensible doctorly response. But he basically assured me that at a certain point I would pass out, my heart would do a little reset, and no, I would not die. I left that appointment feeling a bit more confident, even if the idea of passing out while alone on my isolated street that has no footpath doesn’t sound that rad.
But my husband…my husband. My husband is still stuck listening to his internal panicker. He’s firmly on the what-if merry-go-round. So what do you do if your partner is worried you’re going to die? Like, legit worried?
You acknowledge it, and then you always go back to the facts. You say, “What evidence do we have to support that worry?” You try as hard as you can to separate the fear from the truth. And then… You manage the fear-induced desire for control firmly and kindly. All of the “No! I’ll carry that!” and the “You sit down and don’t move forever and ever!” and the “You didn’t reply to my text within 1.2 seconds – are you OK?!”
Because when you’re sick and your independence is already limited, whatever is left is more precious than gold. You have to protect that independence with everything you have. In our house, the rule is – you have to let me do it, and I promise I will be honest if I need help. It’s very hard for my husband to watch me pant and curse and struggle just to carry a shopping bag into the house. But it’s harder for me to feel like the world is happening all around me, and I’m stuck in a bubble, unable to break out.
So: You have to let me do it, and I promise I will be honest if I need help.
Sadly, chronic illness affects everyone in a family, not just the patient. Which is just another jerky thing about it.
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