Illness creates conflicts inside people’s heads.
Sometimes they divide these up, so one person takes one side of the conflict and another just sees (or talks about) the other.
Arguments, misunderstandings, fights, can arise out of these conflicts. One person says (or shouts) one side of the argement, and the other says (or shouts) ‘I don’t understand you! Of course it’s the other!’
Fear can motivate these fights. People can be very scared of the underlying issues involved. The fear may include the idea that nobody will want to know you or love you or care for you if you are ill. This can extend into anxieties about behaving ‘correctly’ when you are ill.
- You want people to treat you as if you were just the same you’ve always been, but your illness (or someone else’s) means you are not.
- You want special treatment because you know the illness has changed things for you, but you don’t want to be a nuisance, you don’t want to be special, you want to be normal, ‘like everyone else’.
- You want to be a good partner/friend/parent/child to someone who is ill but you are terrified you will be affected by the illness or the associated ‘badness’ and you want to get away as far from it as you can
- You want your child to be there for you, but you want them to be unaffected by your illness.
- You want to be there for your child, but the illness is so disabling that you can’t bear to be around anyone who needs anything from you.
- You need to talk about how the illness is affecting you, but you don’t want to remind the other person about how the illness is affecting them.
- You do and you don’t want to talk about it at all.. You are scared of talking, but not talking is not good either.
- you want to fight, but you also want to give in, to let it happen
- You know you can do things and you know you can’t – both can be frightening
There are many more.
- You know physiotherapy (or some other treatment) is the only hope you have; at the same time, you know physiotherapy (or another treatment) is a total waste of time. To think that it might help a bit but perhaps not enough is a really frightening thought.
- You know there are painful, depressing thoughts to be had, and you know you have to avoid these thoughts at all costs.
- You want to fight reality; you want to fight realistically
- you know you have to keep cheerful – or all will be lost ; you know there are some disturbing things you need to think about and if you don’t think about them, all will be lost
- you know you need to think and make decisions; you know that thinking and making decisions is the last thing in the world you want to do.
Dividing it up, one person says ‘you must go on fighting’ and the other says don’t be silly, ‘you must give in’; one says ‘you can’t do that’ and the other says ‘of course you can do it’; one says ‘worry’ the other says ‘you mustn’t worry’.
Each may be afraid of admitting they do understand the other. If both take the same side, the other point of view may be lost, when actually both need to be taken into consideration.
Neither may feel they can face reality; the exaggeration of the fight allows both to delay facing reality and beginning a mourning process for the losses which are unavoidable.
Some fights can create more losses than the illness itself. Blaming one parent for the other parent’s illness can leave a child feeling like an orphan when they are not.
If both people can admit to understanding the other, some of the isolation can be reduced and there may be a greater sense of supporting each other.
The fight can delay seeking more realistic solutions to practical problems. Or it can allow one person to seek solutions while the other turns their back for a while longer.
It can also turn people against each other.
Fighting a point of view easily translates into fighting another person. A potential ally becomes an enemy. This may feel preferable for a while to taking on board the losses caused by the illness. While fighting, these losses seem bigger than they have to be.
The fight increases isolation, keeps people and ideas apart. The fear is that one will overwhelm the other and that something important will be lost. Fighting keeps both alive; it has the potential for bringing about a resolution which includes both sides, though not until both admit they can see the others’ point of view. At first, this is too frightening.
Allies may be brought in on both sides, as a way of reducing the isolation, but if each is really afraid that the other’s point of view is actually just as important, these allies can become enemies when the other side of the conflict reemerges………………. There may be a sense of betrayal when people change sides in the conflict.
Illness itself can feel like a kind of betrayal; a betrayal by a body which should never have become ill.