Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Does Illness Breaks Down Communication Walls?


Here is a story from an article in NY Magazine by Meaghan Winter that is largely about how weight can change relationships.  But the final vignette in the series is really about how illness breaks through the trivial and can accelerate the deeper conversations that couples who aren't living will illness may take decades to get to.

I think those of us who do live with illness as part of our relationships have known what it's like to be too exhausted or consumed to be able to squander communication energy on the easy (and delightful) irrelevancies like taking out the garbage and refilling the ice cube trays.  We have to quickly get to talking about how we are feeling (both the well and ill partner), what matters to us in the moment, what we feel capable of doing, and what are hopes and fears are.

Here is the story:

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Soon after Kyle and Alison became fast friends, he began losing weight and suffering flu-like symptoms. They started dating in their late twenties. One month later, Kyle, already “damn near gaunt,” was diagnosed with cancer.

Even as Kyle underwent chemotherapy, he kept working as a social media strategist and “tried very hard to project independence.” He had only recently moved out of his parents’ home and “didn’t want family doting.” Alison’s care allowed him his adulthood: “I tried to help him keep things as normal as possible,” she says.

Chemo so weakened Kyle that even picking a movie wore him out. Alison made their plans, and they often “restricted their radius to the neighborhood” because he was tired. Despite his illness, she didn’t consider leaving the burgeoning relationship. “I just wanted to hang out with him,” she says. Because Kyle’s illness immediately plunged them into “intensity,” “once in a while” she’d wonder, “Who’s he going to be in the future, my friend, my boyfriend, fiancĂ©?”

Now that Kyle is cancer-free and they’re living together, they’re learning later than usual to negotiate “little New York couple things you take for granted,” like going out separately. Alison says that they “broke down the walls under a vastly different peril” means they can “broach uncomfortable topics” like how they’re feeling about themselves “without fear.” He adds, “It doesn’t mean it’s not awkward sometimes … But it never feels judgmental.”

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Do you have your own story about illness and communication.  I'd like to hear it.


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