Posted by fxckfeelings on June 22, 2015Share This Post
Private health issues heal the same way that visible open wounds do; bind them up for too long out of shame and they’ll fester and get oozy, but if you put them out there too much they also risk getting oozy, as well as scaring away everyone, including those who want to help. When it comes to hidden problems, never assume that communication is the equivalent to antibiotic, but always fight unjustly negative thinking, whether you voice it silently or publicly. As long as you credit yourself for what you do with what you can’t help, rather than blaming yourself for bad performance, you’ll communicate well with yourself and others and keep scarring to a minimum.
I was never a bad mother, but I’ve always got weird thoughts in my head about how I’m going to harm members of my family. I’ve never, ever acted on these thoughts or purposefully hurt anyone, but the thoughts’ persistence made it so that I was never able to just relax and enjoy my daughter when she was growing up. So when she recently told me that she and her boyfriend, whom I really like, are going to get married, I looked gloomy because I was immediately swamped with thoughts about how I was also going to harm him now, too. My daughter told me she was hurt because I seemed unhappy about her decision, but I didn’t want to let her know how crazy my thinking is (I’ve never told anyone but my doctor about it), so I just told her I was sure I was going to be very happy with him and was just bad at showing it. My goal is not to ruin my kid’s happiness with my craziness.
It’s easy to understand why you might feel ashamed of having murderous thoughts, even if they have nothing to do with how you really feel and have zero influence over what you do. Involuntary thoughts are like a terrible roommate that lives in your own head; they’re slobs that are always around, pestering you for attention and refusing to take the hint and leave.
The major thing that makes mental illness so hard to describe, comprehend, or, for some people, even believe in, is the way it can make your own brain turn against you. We’re used to our stomachs, joints, and even prostates turning against us, but our brains are literally supposed to know better.
In the old days, psychiatrists would tell you that murderous thoughts are expressing unconscious hostility, and maybe if you could acknowledge and understand those feelings your thoughts would get better. When that didn’t work, you’d feel even worse. Then they’d find a way to blame your mother and talk about cigars.
Thankfully, we’re now ready to accept the fact that certain people have ruminative thoughts that have nothing to do with their personalities or emotions, but intrude powerfully into their awareness. It’s a problem with your wiring, i.e., it’s a little short circuit in the brain, not a big subconscious craving to do evil. Sometimes medication and/or behavioral therapy can make it better, but there’s no cure.
Whether or not the thoughts go away, however, there’s no reason for you to be ashamed of them; on the contrary, if you’ve managed to maintain a good, loving partnership, raise a child, and keep a job in spite of the shame and distraction, you’ve accomplished something that’s doubly difficult. You should be proud of what you’ve done despite the voice, not ashamed for being stuck with its freeloading presence in the first place.
Besides, shielding your child from the secret of your ruminations leaves her wondering whether she’s making you unhappy. If, instead, you inform her that you have a condition that makes you irrationally anxious while pushing crazy thoughts into your head, you can also tell her that your unhappy feelings and facial expressions aren’t personal and have nothing to do with her at all.
Those thoughts are uncomfortable and distracting, but have no control over you and don’t do anything but make your life difficult. Tell her that you’ve learned to live with them and you never let them get in the way.
You’ve been strong enough to keep your unwelcome thoughts from pushing you to hurt anyone; now you can avoid hurting your daughter’s feelings if you’re open about how hard you fight to ignore them and how happy you are for her and her fiancé.
“I feel like a creep who has disgusting, secret thoughts, but I know I have a neurologic condition that I can’t stop but it can’t stop me, either. I will not let it shame me and I will take pride in the way I manage it.”
My husband got diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years ago after he had too many symptoms to pretend that nothing was wrong. The diagnosis made it clear that he had to retire early, which he begrudgingly did, and he’s made some effort to adjust to his new life. He still seems angry at himself for not being as accomplished as he should be, however, or not doing as much as his friends who still work. He seems far too focused, not just on what should be, but on how terrible his health is, and how unfair it is, and how none of the treatments are working. I try to find ways to get him to be more positive, or at least fixate less on the negative, but he seems completely stuck. My goal is to get my husband to see that he shouldn’t spend the rest of his life obsessed with his disease and everything it’s taken from him.
Focusing on what’s wrong with you can be very helpful if there is, indeed, some way to make yourself right. If you look hard enough for the right doctor or the right treatment, maybe you’ll find it. And then they’ll name that disease, an oil, and maybe a bridge after you and applaud your heroic determination.
Unfortunately, many medical problems remain a mystery. We nibble around the edges and frequently discover treatments that help a little bit or just ease the symptoms a bit or some of the time, and that’s as far as it goes. Parkinson’s is a case in point. So are most mental illnesses, the common cold, and almost all illnesses besides Athlete’s Foot.
So the very determination and focus that made your husband good at what he did are now working against him. Without disrespecting those qualities, you should try to challenge his assumptions. Ask him what his goal is and then, when he tells you it’s to understand his illness or get over being crippled by it, tell him, as I would, that he’s being an idiot with bad values. You have no respect for coaches who expect their players to perform beyond their ability, and neither does he. You have the greatest respect for people who adjust to handicaps and still do their best.
Tell him his efforts to fight Parkinson’s are what are making him sicker. He’s done a great job learning about it and getting the best treatment. Now it’s time for him to reclaim his role as your partner and do his best to live according to his values.
In your view, that’s the only way to beat this illness, and you believe he can do it. He may not find a cure and be an international hero, but if he can find a way to live up to his values despite his illness, he’ll be a hero to you.
“I hate seeing my husband turn into an embittered guy because of his inability to overcome an incurable illness, but I can remind him that the values we have both lived for are more important than illness or disability, and there’s nothing stopping him from continuing on his way.”
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