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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
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The Other Side Of Workaholics

Last week I told Moshe’s and Richard’s stories. These two men gave their all to their jobs despite the diseases that made it more and more difficult to do so. They just worked harder and longer to continue to produce the way they always had. These men were workaholics, who received very different responses and support from their colleagues when their disease finally forced them to stop working. Many people find their work ethic admirable. It is indeed wonderfully courageous how these two, and so many like them, fought all odds to continue to be contributing members of the work force. But there are only so many hours in a day, and as the chronically ill spend more of those hours preparing for and doing their jobs, there is less time for other things like their family.

Mel fought going on disability. Even though he was dependent on his wheelchair to get around, the thought of stopping work never entered his mind. He just spent more hours in his day at his job, preparing, doing, compensating. It really was amazing and awe-inspiring to see his determination to continue working. Everyone, lauded his efforts. Everyone that is, except his immediate family. His wife told me that Mel’s determination had a toll, a very large toll, on the family. As Mel spent more of his time with work related tasks, he spent less time with his family. They no longer went on family vacations or went out with each other as they used to. Socializing with friends or even spending family time with their children diminished and finally stopped as Mel simply didn’t have the time to both keep up at work and be there for his family. Over the years, Mel’s wife went from being supportive of him to anger and resentment as the time he dedicated to his work took increasingly more time from her and their children. Finally, as the children grew, Mel’s wife found herself alone most of the time, as he became more time consumed with his work. She began to go out by herself, seeking friends among divorcees and widows who would want to spend time with a woman who, though married, was alone. Now that Mel is on disability, he doesn’t understand why his wife has a life independent of him and isn’t eager to leave her friends and spend more time with him.

As Ken’s illness worsened, he too spent more time keeping up at work. Meanwhile, like Mel, he spent less and less time with his family. His daughter’s “vort” (engagement party) had to be during his vacation time or he would not attend, refusing to take off the time from work. Other people’s schedules were irrelevant. His work had become all consuming. Keeping up with his work now necessitated that his household tasks fell by the wayside. He had no time to deal with bills, banking, paper work, insurance claims and income tax. As the balance in the house started to fall apart, it was up to Ken’s wife to pick up the slack. She quickly found herself drowning, as she added the household tasks her husband used to do to her already full schedule. As his condition worsened, his time compensating at work increased, necessitating a further decrease in any time spent with and for his family. As his condition worsened his need for his wife’s help (physically and emotionally) increased and her time schedule became unmanageable as well. She, however, had no one to whom to off load it. Discussions around solving the growing family problems were fruitless as Ken’s determination to keep up at work despite his worsening illness was all he could focus on. Today, Ken is on disability. He cannot understand his wife’s negativity that seems to accompany his many needs and requests. He does not feel he neglected his family during those last years at work. He was only trying to support them, after all.

It is natural to assist an ill person, to help them in any way we can. This is true for whether we are helping a blind person cross a street or helping someone maintain his job. But it is also the responsibility of the recipient of our help to see the burdens that this “help” is placing on those around him. This is even more important when it involves long-term family adjustment. Balance is paramount. Work, after all is just a job. It will not last forever. Circumstances and age will see to that. But how we treat those around us, especially our family, during those work years may lay the seeds for how they treat us later. Giving time to and consideration of family now, maintaining a balance, may ensure getting time and consideration from family later. Is your life balanced? Think about it.

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More Articles from Ann Novick

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.

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