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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
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A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (Part 2)

Last week I began to share the work of a support group. A cartoonist had come and put into cartoons the emotions, feelings and attitudes experienced by the group. The first cartoon was called Deep Pockets and aptly showed the multitude of emotions that a well spouse pushes deep down into his or her many pockets. The cartoon could just as well be of a woman with a male caregiver, but this support group was made up of only women and the gender is only an expression of who was there. It is not meant to make any gender comment. This week’s cartoon explores something very different. It talks about the relationship in a marriage, where one is dependent through necessity, socialization or habit. The dynamic is clear from the picture, and the title is perhaps shocking. Who does have the power in this picture?

 

Above we see a chronically ill person who is wheelchair bound. His expression is one of sadness and dependence, and he seems to be uninvolved. He is even leaning away from his wife, who is standing next to him. She has a sort of forced semi smile (or perhaps it is just an absence of a frown). Her hand is on his shoulder for moral support. She looks unfocused, tired and overwhelmed. The title asks, “Who is the powerful one in this picture”? Below the picture, the cartoonist put some words in the man’s mouth. “Give me! Get me!” “Why do you have to go out?” “Where are you going? When are you coming back?” “Move me a little to the right.”


In a normal relationship, where there is a give-and-take, these words may not be as emotionally laden as they are in this situation. Note the lack of “please” and “thank you”. These woman felt that those little courtesies would have made a vast difference in what they were asked to do to assist their spouses. Their lack made them feel taken for granted, used and even abused. They told me that the demands and questions the cartoonist listed were things they heard all the time. They brought with them tremendous feelings of guilt. Guilt for being the healthy one, for being able to leave the house on their own and go where they wanted; when they wanted. As one woman said, “How do you say ‘no’ to someone who can’t do it for himself; no matter how you feel or how tired you are. Even if you think what he’s asking for is something he is capable of doing for himself, you can’t just say ‘get it yourself’ or ‘I’m busy now’. So, who does have the power in a relationship where you can never say ‘no’. Not me!”


There are many different kinds of power that we come across in our lives. Some are obvious. An employer who decides if we remain employed or not has power over us. So too is the power of a union that defends a person who is fired. But in these cases there is some recourse, someone to go to for help. But who does a well spouse go to to discuss the power his or her spouse has over them? Who would understand that a chronically ill person, who may not be able to move can still exert a great deal of power, even if it is only over the spouse?













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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words-part-2/2006/04/12/

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