Once in a while in popular culture we come across something that resonates within us. It can be a song, a movie, or some kind of reference online. Especially in this digital, everything-is-immediately-available age. The most recent experience I’ve had with this is watching the movie Love and Other Drugs. It’s a good movie and I highly recommend it even if you’re not on the chronic illness carousel, but especially if you are.
It’s a story about a 26 year old with early onset Parkinson’s. But it wasn’t so much that the story involved a particular illness as it was just about *every* chronic illness, most of which are almost invisible. It’s about living inside a body that is failing you and refusing to cooperate with anything you want on a daily basis.
The one scene in the movie that truly spoke to me and inspired this blog was about 3/4 of the way through the movie. Jake‘s character (Jaime) comes over to his girlfriend’s apartment after a day at work. Anne‘s character (Maggie) has had a really long, crappy day dealing with doctors and trying to get to the pharmacy before it closes to get her meds…basically, she spends forever at the doc’s and misses the pharmacy and has to wait until tomorrow to get her meds which means that she’s without any meds until she can get to the pharmacy. A story that all of us that deal with way too many doctors and pharmacies and medications know all too well.
So, she’s got a bottle of vodka trying to numb a little of the pain and frustration of it all. And after such a crappy day, she’s prickly and short tempered and pissed off at her hands because they won’t work right, and ….basically the whole damn lot of it all.
I don’t have Parkinson’s but I do know what it’s like to live in a body that is betraying you. I do know what it’s like to drop things and knock them over all the time.
So Jaime and Maggie start arguing and she tells him to him the hell out. As he’s leaving, she tries to pick up her glass and ends up knocking it off the table. Just as Jaime steps out the door, he hears this howl of grief and frustration. He steps back in the door and finds her crumbled on the floor, sobbing. He gathers her up and holds her. This is supposed to be the point in the movie that we understand that he’s seeing how hard it is to love someone with a chronic illness and in the face of all that, he still chooses her because he loves her.
Part of the story deals with how Maggie doesn’t let anyone too close because she doesn’t trust anyone to accept her illness and support her through it. It’s incredibly difficult to be with someone that is chronically ill. The fact that something like 80% of spouses leave their significant other in the face of cancer, Lupus, Fibro, or a whole list of chronic illness speaks to how hard it really is. And even in the 20% or so of those that don’t pack their bags and run off to Aruba with a hot blond, not all of them are really there. (Okay I’m speculating…a little … about the blond…and Aruba, but you get the idea…they look at what the future holds for their chronically ill S.O. and bail.)
That moment…the resonating howl of anguish, grief, and frustration…spoke to me. The cry of overwhelming heartbreak as she collapses to the floor in sobs. We’ve all been there. Chronically ill or not, something, sometime in your life has left you feeling disheartened and overwhelmed.
She tries to push him away because the thought of trusting someone to catch her as she struggles is terrifying.
That’s one of the lesser known things about being diagnosed and eventually learning how to live with an illness. The fear that no one will be there with you, that being sick makes you feel harder to love. We’ve all lost people once we became sick…friends, family, loved ones, and yes…sometimes spouses.
That was the part of the movie that resonated in me. I’ve covered a lot of aspects of living with an illness but the fear and rejection is never truly addressed enough, in my opinion.
If you love someone that is chronically ill, try to understand that they are still in there. The same person you knew a decade ago is still trapped in that betraying body.
If you are chronically ill, I hope you’ll share this blog, or better yet, that movie with your S.O.
I think the most important thing we can do is try to understand each other.