When you’re married and have children, in a relationship, or even with friends, you may find yourself in a position to comfort your loved ones during or after your life-threatening illness. I’ve had such a wonderful support system through my tough times. I’ve had friends, coworkers, and family right by my side for the entire ordeal. However, I had to remember that I wasn't the only one suffering. Although I was the one who was physically ill, my loved ones were trying to understand their new roles in my life now that I have unique needs.
I would stay in my house for days without reaching out to anyone. I shut people out because I didn't want them to see me weak or think that I pitied myself. I stopped communicating completely at one point. Although no one said anything, I eventually realized that it would help the situation if I talked through how I was feeling instead of keeping it all bottled up.
Most of the time, I was able to write down how I was feeling. When I would read it back, I realized it made me feel better to express myself. I decided that this was a better way of dealing with my emotions than shutting people out. I began sharing my feelings with my friends and family and soon found out that they were having some of the same feelings. Instead of shutting them out all of that time, we could have been working through the issues together.
Surviving a life-threatening illness affects everyone differently. My children also had concerns and questions. Once I opened up about how I was feeling, I began to see a positive change in them. For example, if I have a rough night coughing (a symptom of congestive heart failure), I can hear them tossing and turning or they come into my room, concerned. I tell them the truth: tonight is a rough night for mommy, but it won't always be this way.
The next morning, I let them ask any questions they might have. I've noticed that it’s comforting to those around me when I’m open. Some days, I may feel like making light of my situation by joking about my “bum heart” or my loud cough. And some days, I may choose to reassure them that what will be, will be and that we must keep moving forward no matter what.
The key element is communication. Whether it's helping a girlfriend understand why I don't like to leave the house as often these days due to fatigue (another symptom of heart failure), or reassuring the children that every day is important and that we must take it one day at a time, I have found that bottling up my feelings does no good for anyone.