Loving a Spouse with an Autoimmune Disease
Recently a friend who has been working very hard to relieve the pain and other symptoms of her husband's autoimmune disease said something that got my attention. She mentioned his latest problems and wrote, "I'm starting to get that this is probably always going to be a part of our life, this autoimmune disease."
She gave me permission to share with you our conversation, just in case you, too, face an autoimmune disease in your marriage.
I wrote back:
You can look at it that way: this will always be part of our life. Or you can look at it the other way: how remarkable that we get this day/month/year together in spite of his body always trying to kill itself -- thank God and a whole lot of scientists for modern medicine and the days when he can get some work or loving done.
I went with the first one for fourteen years and often felt oppressed by it until the reality of the second one hit me in the face.
(In case you haven't read my bio, the disease somehow won and left me a widow.)
I just thought that the work we were doing was going to help him go into remission, and I'm starting to reconcile myself with the idea that maybe it's not going to go into remission. Some days I don't know how to shrug off the idea that the guy I love is in so much pain and there's nothing I can do.
My empathy meter went to full-tilt. He had been through a lot more than just this disease in the last few months, and she had been with him through it all. For many weeks, she had done all the work of creating healthy juices for him from fresh fruits, vegetables, and plants, and it had helped. Now the darn disease had both of them feeling powerless.
I replied, and I share it with you in case you are in a similar situation:
So it didn't get his body healthy enough to withstand the simultaneous stresses of one parent's death, the other's fatal illness, an urgent deadline, food poisoning, the flu, and pneumonia. It DID give him a bunch of comfortable days, and you can repeat them when you have the money, time, and energy to do so.
He probably would not have bothered to try juicing on his own, because his symptoms are so familiar to him.
What I am trying to caution you against is feeling defeated when his body reacts to stress or imagining yourself working as hard as you did with the juicing or living with his current mood for every day of the rest of your life. The resentment (whether toward him or the Fates) will screw up your marriage.
Be grateful he's there, in pain or not, do what you can when you can to alleviate the pain if you can, and stay madly in love with him. Now that we know love actually strengthens the heart, improves breathing, and regulates digestion by toning the vagus nerve, know you're making a real difference in his health even when you're not chopping up vegetables or researching the next possible symptom reliever. And the release of oxytocin that love brings is likely to improve his mood.
Almost all of us will face serious chronic or acute disease or injury eventually, which means all of us will at some point be a loving spouse who feels powerless to help. This is a normal part of life. Ride it like a wave. Your role is to love, not to cure or to rescue. Resentment that it's your turn to feel helpless now will only get in the way of fulfilling your very important role in your husband's or wife's wellbeing. Let it go.