Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
My husband was injured at work and since has been unable to work. He now sufferers constant pain. Medications help a bit, but also leave him listless. This has been going on for what seems like forever and he no longer acts like the man I married. He seems depressed, is short tempered, withdrawn, and probably overmedicated. He not only is avoiding me, but seems to no longer show any interest our kids. I don’t know what to do for him and I feel guilty having the thoughts I am carrying. I know it isn’t his fault but I don’t know how much more of this I can stand. He already sees a million doctors but despite this, he remains miserable. Isn’t there anything that can be done?
Dear Mrs. Payne,
This is a tough picture and is hard for both of you. On top of the medical issues arising from his injury, he is also grieving. He is grieving for the loss of who he used to be. No medications can treat grief or remove pain forever. The human body is built to feel pain, both mental and physical; we need to feel it in order to avoid danger. Many medications that reduce pain are also a form of anesthetic that reduce vitality as well. Your husband can get stuck in a very negative cycle, between grieving for losses and a reduced ability to think properly.
Pain medications have to be used with caution. Taking too much will cause absolute stagnation. Grief will usually improve on it’s own over time, as long as one doesn’t isolate or overmedicate. Some people who have been successful despite pain, have adopted pain as their new baseline: “It is now part of me.”
After any great loss people want things to return to the way they were. This is a stage of grief called bargaining. Unlike other cultures, ours does not teach that suffering does not preclude happiness. In order for your husband to be happy again he will have to let go of who he was and be open to who he can be. Returning to the past is impossible and no one knows the future. It is just as likely that in the future he will have found some way to be happy as it is likely for him to remain miserable. If he assumes that things can change for the better and lives and makes choices from the assumption of eventual success he will, over time, shape the present to create that positive future.
If your relationship is going to survive you also have to be open to the fact he is not the man you married; but he can become someone new. I think it’s good for you to remind him that his suffering is not a justification to bypass common respect. He will have to learn to act the part until it becomes natural, i.e. fake it until he makes it. This will stem from acceptance rather than denial and bargaining (other stages of grief). A counselor can help guide you both through these stages.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: I’m going to give my answer with this round about personal story. When I was 26 years old, I nearly died and discovered after surgery that I had an incurable disorder that would most likely make my life a living hell. I suppose that I should have cried at that point, but for some strange reason, it struck me as hilarious- I laughed until my doctor decided I needed a sedative.
The hospital staff thought I was crazy, but over the years, I came to realize that my laughter saved my life. It was my acceptance of the ludicrous fragility of life. I have watched other people with the same disorder as mine, but with bad attitudes, gradually turn into invalids on dialysis, and go down complaining
and bitching to the bitter end. I wish I could tell them all: your bitterness is what’s really killing you. When things get bad, the only thing that can save your butt is your own good attitude and common sense.
People who have everything going for them in the world have fallen by the wayside because they were careless and had bad attitudes and expected happiness to be handed to them. They let everything get to them and they comforted themselves with food, drugs and destructive self-gratifying behaviors when the going got bad.
One of the happiest men I ever met was a guy who was born with deformed legs, unable to walk. He became a Special Olympian and went on to get a teaching degree, marry a gorgeous blonde and have three healthy kids. It was his attitude that carried him through, not his good fortune.
We create our worlds by believing in them. Believe in something good. Your world will be better for it.