In Sickness and in Health- That means BOTH of us?

Breaking News: It’s not all about me. I’m serious here. I worry that you (and by ‘you’ I mean all of the incredibly fabulous people that have taken time to read my thoughts) might start to believe that my entire life revolves around “The Care and Keeping of a Tiffany.” And, some days, it feels that way. Some days, it requires every ounce of my brain to process how incredibly horrible I feel or just . . . so. much. pain. On those days, it is all about me to an extent. However, I’m treating my life and my marriage unfairly if I really start believing that even those horrible days excuse me from acting like a decent human.

You see, I got married because I was in love- meaning I loved someone else and thought more highly of that person (aka Joe) than I did myself. So, to excuse myself from treating him as though he still matters that much to me would be to completely redefine our relationship. I tell Joe sometimes that I pulled a “bait and switch” when he married me. When we dated I was this normal (sort of), healthy person, and then he married me, and I totally fell apart. That couldn’t be helped. We had absolutely no way of knowing that would happened before we married, but we both vowed to love each other regardless.

In other words, when you vow to love and support each other in sickness and in health, the vow goes both ways. The healthy person has to love on the sick, but the sick person has just as much obligation to care and support their well spouse. Yes, Joe has a responsibility to love me when I’m unlovable- when I’m too sick to shower, when I’m crying about how differently life turned out than I had expected, when I’m mad at the world and can’t even understand what I’m feeling. . . But, I have a responsibility to love Joe just as much. That means I love him when he’s tired, or grumpy, or even feeling frustrated about my never failing ability to get sick when we have plans. So, yeah, the sick person has to do his/her own share of loving their spouse.

For all of you saying, “well, duh,” I get why this may seem obvious. It is, but it’s hard to remember sometimes. For example, I obtained a headache and a certain level of nausea a couple years that just never went away. I think of them as my dark passengers (a little Dexter reference for those of you with similarly disgusting taste in television); they’re always there. At this point, if I say I have a headache, what I am really telling you is that my normal headache has stepped it up a few notches and invited all his headache-y friends to visit in my cranium. I don’t even mention the dark passengers any more, unless they are being especially boisterous. So . . . when Joe tells me he has a headache, I sometimes just look at him like he’s commenting on the weather. If he decides to lie down and rest because of this aforementioned headache, I’m completely stymied. I mean, doesn’t he know that headaches can be ignored? How could he possibly have the nerve to tell me that he has a headache?

Clearly, I struggle a bit with empathy. I don’t mean to act like I’m Tiffany, Queen of Suffering, but sometimes I mess up. But . . . if Joe has a headache, he is feeling a little of what I feel every day. And, if I need to take care of Joe (even if it’s just being quiet while he rests), then I’m feeling a little of what he feels since he ends up taking care of me a lot. It doesn’t matter who the “sick person” and who the “well person” is, we have responsibilities to each other.

The struggle of being a committed spouse goes beyond physical ailments, of course. Joe (and I say this only after getting his permission) struggles with anxiety and depression. And, no, I didn’t cause it (though I’m sure I add to his symptoms sometimes). I don’t mean that sometimes he has bad moods; I mean, true, diagnosed depression. He has a wonderful doctor and manages well through medication and lifestyle modifications, but it is still a very real issue. In this week following the suicide of Robin Williams, my role as Joe’s wife has been more important than ever. In a time when the self-proclaimed experts on social media have begun blaming mental illness on a total lack of spirituality, masculinity, and/or selflessness, my husband (who embodies all those traits being questioned) has needed a reminder that he is loved and understood exactly as he is. (Side note- Friends struggling with mental illness, seek a doctor or therapist who understands. Please ignore the pseudo-help that social media and non mental health professionals are giving so freely.) I’m sure every marriage or partnership has its issues. Maybe it isn’t mental illness, but maybe there’s a miserable job situation, or a hurtful family circumstance. Whatever it is, and it could be a multitude of things; remember, crazy, chronic friends, you have a role in your relationship.

Personally, I’m glad that I’m not totally useless. I like that there is this other human in the world that depends on me. Despite my inabilities, my ability to love and support hasn’t diminished, and I want to use every ounce of those gifts to hold up my end of our vows to each other.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

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