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Chronic Snarkopolist: Can Healthy Ever Be Wrong?

Post Published: 26 May 2011
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Category: chronic autoimmune conditions column, Chronic Snarkopolist, Column
This post currently has 4 responses. Leave a comment

Hello my loves! I missed you fiercely whilst I was away on vacation! Let us never be apart so long again!

I had several conversations with patients last week. Some were hopeful and others enlightening. Our experiences and stories always amaze me. Most of us spend time wanting to get back to “our lives.” The lives we remember from “healthier times.” But some of us have different stories – of being held back by healing or fearing remission because the people in our lives need us to be sick. Isn’t that fascinating!?

One of the most profound stories was a man who lost his ability to walk for two years and was wheelchair bound. During that time he was in graduate school. He met a woman and became engaged. They were planning a life together. Meanwhile, he underwent an experimental procedure that was successful and within a few days he was able to walk through physical therapy and lots of work on his part. His fiancé left him within weeks. Though he could walk again, his life crumbled before his eyes. This was not what she signed up for, she wanted to be a hero or a saint, not married to a man with a shuffle. A few years later, he barely has a limp, is married to a woman who can accept him walking or in a wheelchair, and he looks back on the entire experience as one teaching him empathy and compassion and more about certain kinds of people he wants in his life.

What is it when people NEED us to be sick or hurt in order to accept us? What happens when people cannot allow us to fully heal or get better? Are the power dynamics in our friend and family relationships centered on us being weak or in pain so much that when we as patients heal or go into remission and feel better or happier or healthier they are actually threatened?

Another woman told me story after story of watching patients lose their marriages when one partner lost weight or had obesity surgery. I’ve seen people begin to heal but their relationship was based on their partner helping them. So the relationship would be unsettled if they were able to get a job again or walk or drive again. And so they seemed to maintain an unspoken dependence even though when their partner was not there they were much more capable than when their partner was around. I never asked them why they did this because each person is different. Was it that fatigue comes and goes? Or is it perhaps the relationship is predicated on their dependence? I often wondered.

For example, if you can take a trip for a week and go to academic conferences and bathe yourself but demand that your spouse bathe you because you “cannot do it yourself” when you are at home, I often wonder if you are perhaps, not telling the entire truth. How did you fend for yourself during the week you were away without a caretaker? I had one husband tell me, “I always wonder if she is lying but I don’t want to accuse her because she uses a wheelchair and I love her, but she was so capable before I married her and when she’s on her own, and so incapable when she’s around me, I am starting to get suspicious.” In this case, it isn’t even a spouse holding her back, it is her lying to herself that her only charms are her “damsel qualities” when in fact, her husband likes far more than that about her.

I have a friend who agreed to be a bridesmaid in two different weddings but backed out at the last minute both times. She had a great excuse both times so no one questioned her integrity, but recently, I have noticed that as I have been able to walk instead of be in a wheelchair, or as I have been able to actually do more she has far less desire to be around me. She is much more in my life when I am in the hospital or when I am in treatment. When I NEED a friend (aka when I am suffering and unable to take care of myself) she is fully present. But when I am more active, she drops out of my life. It is oddly opposite of most people. Which is why I notice her absence now that I WANT to thank her and celebrate. If I watch her from a distance, she tends to go from one “victim” to another, first a divorce, then a widow, next an illness. I’ve been sick most of the time she’s known me, but she’s only REALLY in my life when I’m in crisis, and distant when I’m healthier and more robust. What is that? It is not me. I am still ME. I am fully me and I LOVE life. Right?

Can we become accustomed to being sick so much that we forget how to heal? And is there a type of person or personality who seeks out sick people or holds us back in our healing? Is there ever guilt in being the one who gets better when our friends around us continue to stay sick or get worse? These are all complicated and complex ideas.

I love so many people. I visit my friends in the hospital when I can and I HATE disease. And yet, I DO sometimes feel guilty when I am the healthy one. And I NEVER feel angry when they are the ones visiting me.

What do you think? Are any of these issues resonating with you? Do some of your friends ever seem to hold you back because you won’t be YOU without illness? Are your sick friends jealous of your better days? Or are your healthy friends more committed to keeping you sick? Instead of not believing your illness have you come across people dedicated to keeping you sicker than you need or want to be? What do you do about it? How do we heal with such emotional and psychological vampires ESPECIALLY from those who support us either emotionally or financially? TELL ME! I must know!

I will see you same time next week! Kiss kiss!
-Melissa

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4 Responses to “Chronic Snarkopolist: Can Healthy Ever Be Wrong?”

  1. Ione Skyeridge says:

    Hello, I have been a long time reader but first time reply-er.
    I often have to stop and think about what another person has going on in their life. Maybe their reaction to my situation has absolutely nothing to do with me but rather with their own baggage.

    I am only responsible for myself and I have to ask whether I reach out more when I am in crisis and less so when not. If that is the case, maybe the person is not sure how to deal with the good times but only the bad since that is how our relationship was forged.

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Hello Ione! So so glad you replied!!! I always love to hear from people!! Truly!

      And yes yes yes! It is SO SO HARD not to take things personally! Especially when people are acting oddly or when they clearly have their own baggage! (who doesn’t right?)

      And yes- we are all responsible for ourselves. And it is important to look carefully at unspoken (or even below the radar motivations) and understand them.

      Thank you so much for reflecting more about intentions and relationships as well.
      xoxo
      Melissa

  2. purplesque says:

    Amazing, insightful post.

    I like to think of this in terms of storytelling- some of us are given the role of the sick early on in life, others the role of caretakers. If we get used to these roles and learn no other, then we go seeking them in all our acts.

    Several physicians I know went into medicine because of the need to be a caregiver, in at least one long-running act of their life. Not all such needs are pathological, but some are, as you so skillfully pointed out.

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Hello Purplesque! Yes! Isn’t it amazing how being a caregiver or comforter can be so interestingly beautiful and joyous and then move into pathology if it isn’t expressed in a healthful way?

      And it is also important to know that it is OK to heal and it is OK to let people heal… and it is OK to “cut the chords” in certain relationships.

      Thank you so much for your beautiful insight!!
      xo
      Melissa

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