The Unhealthy Other

Though I write this article from the perspective of chronic illness, one can become isolated within any relationship: voiceless, invisible, lost in the sound of silence. Whatever our circumstances, we all have mountains to climb, we all suffer, and we can all find ourselves silenced by those we love the most.

Living with a chronic health condition presents challenges in many ways, not least in our relationships, both those we already have and those we hope to make. Having the right relationships can improve the quality of our lives as we face the day-to-day challenges of ill-health, and can help us to be resilient when there are setbacks. The wrong relationships, however, can hinder us in many ways, adding pressure to what is already a difficult and stressful situation.

Nothing is fixed. Every day is different, every relationship will evolve, and your condition, your very self, will change as the days become weeks and the weeks become months. Only you know how your condition affects you, and only you can judge the quality of your relationships in the complex environment that is your life. Applying “rules” to the shifting sands of our lives can be unhelpful, but we also need at times to take a step back, consider things, and make changes.

Allow yourself to be imperfect, to make mistakes. Allow others to be imperfect, to make mistakes. The problem is not always in the mistake itself but in a lack of willingness to own our mistakes. That said, we must also be careful not to be so quick to own our mistakes that we do not hold others accountable for their words or actions. This can be difficult when we are sick and dependent on others for our care.

Living with a chronic illness can be isolating as there is a level of suffering no-one ever sees except those closest to you. Even then, your experience of something that affects you twenty-four hours a day can be difficult to put into words, to express to another person in a way that they will understand. The effect of not feeling fully understood can be frustrating.

Keeping your tears for yourself alone might seem brave but misses out on the support that might be the very thing you need to help you get through the worst times. Only you can work this out, but allowing yourself to be at your lowest ebb with someone who understands and hears you can be profoundly supportive.

While you need the understanding of others, you also need to allow them to feel stressed, for they love you, and worry about you, and get frustrated too. Be understanding of them, and allow them to share with you how they are affected.

Forget trying to be upbeat all the time. You won’t make it and might end up feeling bad for feeling bad. If I am sick then wishing it were otherwise would make about as much sense as sitting in a car with no wheels and yelling “Faster!”.

If this is difficult for you, given who is in your life, or you have no-one, then consider reaching out to others with the same condition, by finding a welcoming forum, or joining a support group, to seek friends and form a support network for one another,

One worry about joining support forums might be that you will feel defined by your disease. If so, try reaching out on social networking sites — not dating sites — where you can meet people from a variety of walks of life, with their own struggles to face, and who need to be heard as much as you do.

Everyone hurts, as the song says, and our share of that universal hurt can open our hearts to all who suffer, whether with physical pain or with bruises that are carried in hearts and minds. So much of that hurt exists hidden behind our eyes, unseen, unexpressed. Your strength and courage to make it through what is happening to you can inspire you, can lead you to open your heart to others in a way that can make a difference in someone else’s life, can bring their hurt into the open and help heal it.

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