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With What Are We Coping?


Posted on June 19, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

In each of the programs, the stories told were stunning in their simplicity and more stunning in the need to talk and to share.  No doubt each of us who were part of these sessions had others in our lives with whom the pain, fear, and anxiety were shared.  Yet, to be with peers, in an industry where 'perky' and 'upbeat' are operative words, and to talk about the difficulty of getting up each day or going on the road while in mental or physical pain, was clearly a relief to each person who attended.

At one meeting, a woman I'd met earlier in the week at another session walked into the session about illness and when asked why she was there - after being so positive and outspoken and strong in the other session - said "I'm going to have a mastectomy this coming week and I'm terrified."  Another spoke about her difficulty dealing with her own depression while helping her husband cope with a major illness about which his employers were unaware.  Another woman of a 'certain age' spoke of her leukemia and the cost of her monthly medication, living in fear that her employer would find out she was the one who might be driving up the company's health care costs and be fired - and be left with nothing.

A man spoke about losing his wife suddenly and then suffering a heart attack himself and his feelings of depression.  There was the young woman whose mother was homeless because of bipolar disease and how she, the young woman, feared 'getting' the illness. 

The stories went on and on about our own illnesses and those of loved ones.  Worse was hearing the fear of losing a job or losing benefits with no safety net.  Or was it worse to hear that those in sales positions were forced, by virtue of our industry and their employment, to take clients out when all they wanted to do was go home to help their loved ones or themselves?

This might be a time to talk about the inadequacies of the healthcare systems in the US and in other countries.  It is though more than I can take on.  Easier for me is to help our industry - an industry that has expectations of perfection in looks and performance, where having a tough day and not wanting to be around others is not acceptable - continue these conversations.

In the coming days, we'll talk more about care-giving, grieving, and managing illness or the diagnosis.  Please add your stories - and send them to me at eisenstodt@aol.com if you'd like them posted anonymously.  If we talk about the issues and personalize them, we will make our industry better and each of us may be able to manage with some semblance of peace.

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Comments

Joan Eisenstodt

A colleague asked to have this posted anonymously. It may be helpful to many.

>>I met my husband when he was a member of the organization I work for. Shortly after our son was born (around the time I came back to work after 8 weeks of maternity leave), I became concerned about my husband's drinking. I'd never had reason to be concerned about it prior to this point. For a long time, I wasn't sure whether his drinking had actually changed or if I was just hypersensitive to it because of the new baby and the huge financial shift we'd undergone between daycare & healthcare. My son is nearly 3 now and my husband is a full-blown active alcoholic. The personality and behavioral changes he's gone through (even when he isn't drinking) cannot be described. In many ways, he reminds me of my great-grandparents in their latter stages of dementia. On many days, my 2 year-old has better control of his emotions and reasoning abilities.

I've only recently started talking about his illness. I've found I have to be very selective what I say and to whom I say it. The typical reactions I get are "what a jerk" or "you should leave him." And while I'm well aware that I may indeed be forced to leave the marriage, the fact remains that I love this man and am deeply committed to him. It is a terrifying thing to watch someone so smart, kind, funny, generous, confident and capable slide into this abyss - and be so powerless to help.

It is increasingly difficult to keep his disease "at home" - twice in recent months, I've had to cut short business travel because of his erratic behavior. I cannot leave our son in his care, which makes it VERY difficult to travel at all. My schedule at work has been irregular enough (my counseling appointments, his counseling appointments, an attempted suicide, dealing with police, dealing with bankruptcy attorneys because of the financial condition this has led us to, etc.) that I can't "hide" it from my colleagues. I know several others are envious of the "special treatment" I'm receiving. And yet, I'm reluctant to "out" my husband since he is known to so many in our organization both personally and professionally. Trying to explain alcoholism is virtually impossible. I think because alcohol is a legal "drug," and because so many "use" it without becoming alcoholic, people just don't believe that he "can't stop". And so we go back to square one... "what a jerk... you should leave him... you're just trying to protect him..."

On top of that, I worry that eventually I won't be able to do my job fully (the disease takes its toll on me, too, in more ways than I believed possible), that I'll be fired or forced to resign... and that will mean the loss of both the "breadwinning" income AND the health insurance that we so desperately need. And while it's good for me to be at work - because I'm good at it, and I'm around people who can make me laugh everyday, and because I can focus on positive things, and feel good that I'm accomplishing SOMETHING ... the effort that it requires just to get here and be "present" mentally feels superhuman. If my husband had cancer or some other "mainstream" illness, I can't help but think my support systems would be so much greater. While it probably isn't any easier to care for a loved one with cancer, at least no one would expect the ill person to just "stop having it." And no one would suggest divorce to the "healthy" spouse. The "alone-ness" of alcoholism is absolutely unbearable.<<

To this person and others in the same or similar position, we owe understanding and safe places to talk.

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