Addressing Fears

An acquaintance talked to me last week about how they’re having a lot of anxiety issues and PTSD-like symptoms as a result of their husband’s heart attack a couple of years ago.  Even though a couple of years have gone by, they can’t shake the fears and they feel somewhat isolated in dealing with those problems.  Their support structure isn’t strong here.  They can’t talk to their husband because they don’t want to make him feel guilty, and they don’t want to lean on their kids too much.  It’s a tragic situation, but what was amazing about it to me was that it didn’t seem to create any walls or resentment between her and her husband.

When I was dating the photog, she was worried about me.  It should feel nice to have someone worried about you, but it wasn’t.  She was struggling with some pretty severe PTSD and EVERYTHING worried her.  If I didn’t call when I was a couple minutes late she worried.  If I didn’t respond to a text or email right away she worried.  If traffic was bad and I was late showing up she worried.  Eventually I got her to relax on those types of events (or hide it better) but what she couldn’t hide was her fears every time I had problems breathing or a coughing fit.

I didn’t, and still don’t know how to handle it.  With myself, and with friends and loved ones. Joke about it, answer questions. But when they are scared for me what do I do?  What do I say? I’m scared.  It’s my thing, my fears, how can I help them?  I CAN’T alleviate their fears.  Why aren’t they helping me?

I have a better understanding now of why the photographer would look at me like she did when I’d come out of the bathroom after a coughing fit, the fear on her face.  I know how much she claimed to love me/depend on me in her life at that moment.  I just didn’t know what to do about it.  If we were still in a relationship today, I understand that I shouldn’t tease her or brush it off or get as irritated by it as I did.  But that was a ton of pressure on me.  I couldn’t say or do anything to take that fear away.  It was valid.  All I know to do is what I did.  Go to the doctor when I hurt.  Go when they called me.  Let them poke and prod at me.  Take their meds.  Keep running and hiking and whatever else.  But there’s still no clear prognosis.  Still no magic silver bullet cure.  Still no real re-assuring words that aren’t part lies.

The one time when we were together, that it really felt like she was there for me, was when we tried to hike a 14er together.  I had to call it quits early.  I remember us sitting, huddling behind rocks from the conditions while I just coughed and coughed and tried to catch my breath.  Instead of feeling like she was scared and like I had to put on a brave face for her, I felt like I could just be me for once, and feel crappy and cough without hiding it.  Feel bad for not being able to make it and it was great to hear her say it was ok and make me feel better about it.  Or not as bad.

It’s a balancing act.  I don’t want pity from everyone.  I don’t want my friends to try to cheer me up or rush to my aid when I’m coughing.  I’d like some level of help/sympathy from that “special someone”.  I understand the fears.  I’d have them too if someone I loved was sick or potentially terminally ill.  They’re allowed to have those feelings.  It’s reassuring to know they worry.  It’s not fair to ask them to hide those for me, anymore than it is for me to feel like I have to hide my fears or concerns from them.  When their fears are directed at me and my illness, I still don’t know how to handle it.  The pressure from the photog was even worse, because of the dynamics of that of that specific relationship.  They were also worse because at that time I hadn’t acknowledged my fears about the disease at all, it was still so new to me.  I still have work to do on that front.  But I shouldn’t have been as hard on her as I was.

I don’t know how to advise the friend.  Her fears are well founded.  She needs to learn how not to let them control her life, but you can’t tell her not to be scared.  Hopefully if she figures it out, she shares the secret with me.  Someday I’ll be in another relationship and it sure would be nice to know what to do.


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