What an illness means to you will depend on your past as well as your present. You may know about the links, or you may not.
This can feel most unfair – or it can be a great reassurance.
If you felt loved and supported at some time during your early childhood, you will probably have a deep conviction that love and support are both possible, even if you or someone you love is ill.
This can be very sustaining.
A partner can fit comfortably into an existing place in your mind. They can create a sense of being at home, of being loved, of warmth and affection.
When you are ill, you probably want this kind of support, even if at times you want to be left alone to sort yourself out. If you had it in the past, you know you can have it again; you know it exists.
If someone you love is ill, you may be able to go on supporting and loving them for a long time.
However, if you didn’t feel loved and supported in the past, you may not be at all sure that love and support truly exist.
You may behave in a way that makes it hard for other people to support you.
You may find it hard to continue to be there for someone you love when they are ill. You may be afraid they will leave you – and behave in a way that makes it happen.
You may prefer not to depend on anyone else.
You may hate having to ask for help.
You may know you have to be independent and in control because you know you will have to rely on yourself.
Feelings about illness are coloured by your experience with illness when you were a child.
Feelings about ill parents in particular, will colour your feelings about illness in general, and their illness in particular. Grandparents’ illnesses can also be important, depending how close they were to you when you were small.
You probably expect to get the illnesses your parents and grandparents had.
You may not consciously recognise that you had an ill parent, but the anxieties it created and the lessons which you learnt from it may remain with you, affecting your responses to an illness today.
You may know that you are afraid of hospitals because of past experiences; or you may just have a very powerful reluctance to go near one.
You may know lovers always leave you after about X years, but you may not have connected this with the fact that one of your parents died when you were X years old.
You may know you always wanted to be a doctor, but you may not remember that this began when your father was ill when you were a child, and you wanted to make him better.
If a parent was ill and it was never talked about, you may have had fantasies about it which were appropriate for your age at the time, but which an adult would see immediately were untrue, and probably more frightening than they needed to be.
If a brother or sister or cousin or parent died and they were never spoken of again, death may mean being forgotten, being put out of mind – even if you remember them well. You may feel you will be forgotten yourself, when you die. A life-threatening illness may bring back this worry.
If your parent was ill but it was talked about, it may have less frightening meanings.
If your parent was ill and it was talked about, how it was talked about will colour your fantasies at the time and now. Talking about it now can change some childhood fantasies; other, very early ones may be harder to change.