Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.


I’ve been thinking about relationships lately, for various reasons, both friendships and romantic relationships.  And how illness affects them.  I’m currently reading Dancing at the River’s Edge: A Patient and her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness by Alida Brill and Michael D. Lockshin, M.D.  The book has been a great help lately, and I’m learning that a lot of what I’m feeling and grieving is normal.  Someone else has been here, too, and she has been kind enough to put words to my thoughts.

She writes about relationships and how they are affected by chronic illness.  And although she was talking about a physical illness, I saw a lot of parallels between what she was writing and my experience with anorexia and Bipolar Disorder.   The crises involved in the mental illness are (sometimes) different in nature, but they are still crises.  They still wear down not only the individual in crisis but those around that individual as well.  In an ideal world, we’d all stand by each other through thick and thin, “through sickness and health”, but sometimes, a lot of times, doing so is much more than the human spirit can bear.  And relationships fall apart.  And we are left wondering what could have been different.  What we could have said differently.  What we “should have” done.  A lot of  thoughts beginning with phrases such as “if only” and “what if” and “maybe”.

I know I was not always the nicest person in the worst days of my eating disorder and I know that when I’m going through a severe depression or mania, my words sometimes spill out without any censorship and pierce the other person in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.  I had one friend tell me that she only came to expect the passive aggressive comments from me.  That comment hurt in a lot of ways.  It made me realize that I had hurt her in the past.  Perhaps too many times.  It made me realize how much my illness affects other people.  It made me realize that we had gone beyond the point where I could prove her wrong.  That, indeed, she only saw me as passive aggressive.  And that if that’s all she saw in me, it hurt me too much to continue that relationship.  How could I say or do anything without doubting myself?  Without wondering what she’s really thinking about me.  This was a relationship that fell apart over time, and communication had a great deal to do with it.  I have had friends tell me that they could not handle the eating disorder.  I have had partners stick by me during the mini-crises of the anorexia, but as soon as I was inpatient, they left, leaving me feeling broken.  And, also, leaving me in a huge pile of self-blame and guilt.

Alida Brill writes about this feeling.  And then she writes words that I underlined and I know I will come back to them time and time again.

If you despise yourself for an intemperate remark you made during an episode of illness, or fearing its return, if you are disgusted with yourself for not being able to curb an anxious or too needy demand or request, remind yourself of this: this path we walk is arduous and filled with boulders, ditches and canyons.  Force yourself to say these words, even when you are not convinced you believe them: “I did the very best I could.  I grieve the loss of this love and this relationship.  But, I do not blame myself, for I truly did all I could at that moment, within the parameters of my illness.” (pp 124-5)

She goes on, commenting about how she feels about an ex-partner who left because of her illness:

I do not blame him for being exasperated beyond his level of tolerance.  I wish I had been able to feel at that time the compassion I feel for him now.  In the end, however, we both did the best we could at that intense moment, when my disease took charge of our diaglouge and, consequently, our relationship. (p 126)

I do not see anywhere in her words permission to purposefully say or do anything with the idea that “it’s my illness, not me.”  We still have personal responsibility to do the very best we can do.  But what that best is will vary from time to time.  And yes, it is affected by our illnesses, by major life events, by changes we can’t control.  What I read in her words is forgiveness for those times when my best just wasn’t good enough, for the times when my friend or partner’s best just wasn’t good enough.

I read in her words permission to release the bitterness and blame and anger.  I could choose to hold onto those feelings and let them prevent me from risking other relationships.  Or I can take what I learned and hope I don’t make the same mistakes again and risk the opportunity to find love and acceptance.

Yes, in hindsight, I would change a lot of my words and actions.  But dwelling on wishing I hadn’t said that or done that is futile.  The past is in the past.  But the future always remains.  Yes, we risk hurt and pain each time we enter a relationship.  But we take that risk because we might be proven wrong.


May 30, 2010 - Posted by | Communication, feelings | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you for what you have written about my work on your powerful and beautiful blog. I struggled so much with those sections of the book. I wondered if I should expose so much? Your words validated my decision. Again, thank you for honoring me with your your words and for all you are doing. These are the actions that unite us — and keep us going forward.
    Alida Brill

    Comment by Alida Brill | June 1, 2010 | Reply

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