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When Chronic Illness Makes It Hard to Engage in Conversations

It’s a balancing act, and sometimes the symptoms of chronic illness win.  Sensory overload and brain fog can make conversations feel like an insurmountable mountain. Since communication is key to any healthy relationship, this puts a serious and unique strain on any marriage.

A while back, my husband suggested a drive along my favorite stretch of road. It starts with ugly warehouses and tons of tractor trailers, but then becomes ranch land with few buildings and a bit hilly, with some vistas toward the river that runs near it. My husband had the radio on and was launching into what he’d just read about the road, its history, all very interesting. It would have been interesting, that is, if I’d been able to follow and wasn’t going into a serious sensory overload. 

Some days I’m less able to do both — look and listen. Or all three, look, listen and talk. But not today. Plus, the information my husband was telling me was using too much of the part of my brain all the student papers I was grading were using. I was too burnt out with processing words to even read books. I’ve tried to explain it to my partner before; however, it’s difficult to get the overload, the brain fog, the problems with words unless you’ve been there. And talking is a natural way to connect.

The balancing act of chronic illness makes the two of us go to places we’d rather avoid. Is it time to scale back on work if it leaves me unable to have a conversation with my husband? Can we afford that? Not really. Can’t he understand that this symptom leaves me being the walking-dead at times? He tries his best, but it’s a loss. How do you help someone else with the loss of your energy and attention, of the partner you used to be? How do we compromise about our different needs when it comes to taking a break?

The drive down a scenic road works for both of us, but like the river running alongside us, there’s a divide because he needs to talk and listen to music to decompress while I need quiet, a break from language, a chance to just be just eyes instead of mind. And it requires language to explain it which fails me when I’m in the middle of a sensory overload.

I reminded him as gently as I could (he was driving, after all) by putting my hand on his arm. He got quiet, but I could tell it was a hurt quiet.

Getty image via jacoblund

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