16 March 2006


GH and I pride ourselves on having open lines of communication. I don't think the pride is misplaced. We work hard to communicate and we're not afraid to bring up tough stuff as needed. We work very hard not to keep score in that, "I took out the trash so you have to do the dishes" kind of way. We have a few chores that are designated his or hers, but mostly we share tasks depending on who is feeling well, who's tired, how much needs to get done, etc. It's a system that works well for us.

Most of the time.

But then there are the times that part of me does start to keep score. Because let's face it: GH is sick, he's often fatigued, he needs to rest, and when you get right down to it, I end up doing more around the house. This truly does not bother me most of the time. GH's health is very important to me and I want him to do everything he can to take care of his body. Resting is an important part of his self care.

Last night we got home from GH's chemo around 5:00. He had been complaining of fatigue all day, and he immediately set himself up on the couch to watch some TV, do some Sudoku, and relax. Fine--the man just had chemo, he deserves it. I did laundry, paid some bills, made dinner, packed our lunches, returned some phone calls, usual house stuff. We ate. I got him to help me hang some art in our bedroom, but it was like pulling teeth because he was so tired. I felt a little bad for pushing him and encouraged him to go to bed. He did not, but he's a grown-up so I'm not going to insist. I did some work for class. We both went to bed around 10:30. I read, he read. I slept around 10:35 (still can't make it through that Rushdie book!) I woke up at midnight to find him STILL READING.

OK, as I write this, I feel like it sounds crazy and whiny. But I got SO MAD when I saw him still reading at midnight. He's too tired to help me do anything around the house, but he's not too tired to read until late? Guess what? This will make him too tired to do anything helpful again tonight.

I kind of let him have it, and he felt bad. Then I couldn't sleep because I felt so conflicted on so many levels:

The Illness Level. The man has cancer. He needs to rest, plus I feel like he deserves to indulge his rather mild guilty pleasures (sci-fi shows on DVD, Sudoku, staying up late reading). And I am not sick, my energy level is good, and I do like to do things that are comforting and helpful to him.
The Gender Roles Level. Although we work hard not to fall into typical gender stereotypes about who cooks, who cleans, etc., it's hard to avoid. The illness factor contributes to this as since I do more stuff around the house, I take on that traditionally female role. But I feel like most of my girlfriends complain about this to some extent. Even if husbands/boyfriends/partners are willing to help out around the house (like GH, when he's feeling up to it), I get tired of having to ask. I just want him to DO, without being asked. I think this is a common male/female dynamic, and our situation can sometimes exacerbate it.
The Pregnancy Level. I may be feeling great right now, but I'm pregnant! I, too, would rather rest and relax than do all the housework and lunch packing and etc. I have hobbies and projects that I'd like to indulge in the shortening time before the babies get here, and without GH's help, I don't have much time to spare.
The "I Should Just Get Used to Doing It Myself Anyway" Level. GH's illness is terminal, barring a miracle. I often feel like I just need to suck all this stuff up and get used to doing it on my own because eventually I'm going to have to. I might as well just have it be part of my routine.

It's timely that this should all come to a head for me shortly after posting about asking for help. It does not take rocket science to determine that asking for help, from GH or others, is part of the solution to the problem here.

But it's also true that part of this problem just can't be fixed. I burst into tears the other night when I was packing our lunches because I just want things to be different. I want GH to be healthy. I want to have a "normal" life like most young couples. I want to be able to make plans and go out on weeknights if we feel like it and giggle about how funny it will be to be old together. I know everyone lives with uncertainty in their lives and that any one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but I'm tired of the uncertainty be all up in my grill. Actually, it's not the UNcertainty that I'm tired of, it's the certainty--much as I want to deny it and much as I fervently hope that something changes--that what I've got right now isn't going to last.


Christine said...

Oh, Snick. How I feel your pain. Overwhelming fatigue is part of lupus, even when it's in remission, so my husband has to learn to pace himself. He pushes himself too much, then he conks out on the couch. I'm talking sleeping like the dead. And after his treatments, he's exhausted for days. I miss him. He tries really hard for everything to be like it was before, but it isn't. And he has to take breaks, conserve his energy, etc.

Don't feel bad about blowing up at him. You're a human being, and that's a human reaction. We're always here to listen. You're going through quite a lot.

Patti said...

I'm so sorry you are going through this. I know it must be hard. Just remember this isn't a contest about who feels more tired -- you need to take care of yourself too. Maybe it's worth asking a friend to help you out when you need it? If I were your friend irl, I'd be thrilled to have a way to help you. (P.S. Picture hanging isn't a necessity, no matter how important it seems. REST!)

OTRgirl said...

That's so hard. Yuck.

I didn't have the same issue in terms of illness as a factor, but being married to a medical student/resident/oncology fellow meant that scenario played out over and over and over for us. It's only now that he's back in research and not so emotionally/physically drained that he's started to volunteer to do much. So, for 8 years I paid all the bills, did all the cleaning, took the trash out, did most grocery shopping and most laundry (He did do lots of the cooking).

It's so hard to balance the external factors that are 'stealing' your husband (meaning he's blameless for not being able to help) with the fact that you're not getting the marriage you signed up for. Part of the work you're having to do (in the midst of trying to just survive) is to grieve the loss of your dreams. To be ok with getting angry, to let yourself rest.

There's no easy solution, but I'm glad you are both talking through all this stuff.

Yankee T said...

Well, shit. I'm really sorry. On all the levels. You are human and you're going to react, but I can imagine that it's not very satisfying under these circumstances. Wish I could help. Hope ranting is a bit of an outlet here. Thinking of you, kindly, as always.

Dorcasina said...

Ouch, ouch, ouch. I know exactly what you mean, and you are exactly right about how gender roles play into the illness/resentment thing. With my husband, it was his laptop--the one I am typing on right now. His "time-waster" became the one thing he was never too tired to do, and even when I hated myself for it, I resented the fact that it took him away from my daughter and me. Only now do I realize how much of an escape it provided him from a pretty much unbearable reality, and in retrospect, of course, I wish I had cut him more slack.

The key, for me, was not only accepting that the balance of work in our relationship would never be "normal" (by anyone's standards, including ours), and, even more importantly, realizing how badly I needed to feel that what I was doing to keep our lives going, and to keep him on top of the medical stuff, and to work, and take care of our daughter, was important to him--and that he *recognized* and appreciated it. If he seemed oblivious, it felt as though all my hard work was for nothing, since it didn't make him feel "taken care of." Of course, most of the stuff I agonized over was just not important to him (and less important before the illness, too), so it didn't occur to him to make a big deal out of it. But for me, that reassurance that he noticed my effort, especially when I was so frustrated not to be able to do more, really, really mattered. I berated myself for being "needy" and just nagging him, but the truth is that so much of this illness is about feeling helpless and useless, so it was essential that I sometimes felt as though what I did mattered.

One time (and only once) he acknowledged that he felt guilty for "ruining" our lives, my life, with his illness--and that sometimes his retreat into tiredness was about feeling he had disappointed me and let me down. And he just needed to not have to confront the person he felt he had failed.

It's such a horrible, horrible thing. In the last month of his life, we had many conversations where we figured out how incredibly close we were, how utterly honest we had become, how much we loved each other, and how little had been left unsaid. I am glad we had that; and part of achieving that honesty is showing anger, hurt, and fear.

Always thinking of you, and holding you in the light.

weigook saram said...

I remember going through something similar when my FIL was sick. I felt resentful that my husband wasn't available to help me with my (very needy) new baby, and at the same time guilty for being resentful. It was tough because we needed to support each other, but neither of us had the emotional reserves to do it.

I also really identify with your wish for the "normal" life that your friends have.

I think you're right that now is a good time to start asking for help (or even hiring some, if that's what you need to do.) I think it might also be good to have someone besides your husband to talk to about these things, preferably someone who has been through a similar experience and understands.

Badger said...

Oh, Snick. This post rings so familiar.

After years of sharing the household duties, I too was overwhelmed (and at times, I'll admit, a little resentful) when the burden of everything -- from cooking, to cleaning, parenting, and so on -- shifted entirely to me. I would joke to Mr. Badger, "Oh, it must be my turn to do dishes" when it'd been "my turn" for months on end.

On some level, I think you just need to adjust your expectations of what gets accomplished. The house will not be as clean as you'd like. Dinners will be take-out more than homemade. I do encourage you to get some help, if you can, for things around the house. But I also encourage you to just let some things go. What's important is not chores... it's loving your husband and yourself.

Take care, my dear.

lct said...

I wish I had something helpful to say here. Your other readers (an expanding network!) obviously have more experience and insight into this arena.

So I will just say that I am thinking of you both and wishing things were different for you.

And that I love you.

Leggy said...

I'm sorry that you have to go through all this. I wish there was something I could do. Just know we're here to offer support.