I recently travelled to Australia to be in a new relationship and after 5 months, my partner and I bought a house in an area we liked and started to get to know the local community and what shops to get whatever we needed. We registered for the local doctor’s surgery and notified all the official places of our new address.
Within a month of our being in the new house, my partner, who had been living with emphysema for seventeen years, had one lung collapse (pneumothorax) and was admitted to hospital.
Back in the UK, when someone was ill, we would set up a rota of supporters to bring meals and to visit in hospital, but my partner said he didn’t want that, he didn’t want to have to deal with anyone’s sympathy, so I took on the responsibility for visiting and taking in nourishing meals and anything else he needed. I exhausted myself in the process because not only was I fetching and carrying things to the hospital, I was spending long hours there keeping him company, and my anxiousness for his well-being plus the constant activity of nurses, doctors and support staff was pretty draining. Looking back, I should have ignored his instructions and asked for support on my own account, if not for him.
After ten days he came home and was recovering well over the next few weeks, but then he had an infection flare up, which escalated into a high temperature and an ambulance was called to take him back to hospital. He had sepsis and the infection was diagnosed by the doctors as pneumonia. This time I asked for more support and some friends took in meals to supplement his diet. I learned to carry less to and fro but still felt exhausted because I didn’t realise just how stressed I was or how much I was absorbing the energy of the dramas that were unfolding around me.
My partner recovered well from the pneumonia and returned home, but a few weeks later he had another pneumothorax, so it was back to hospital. This time, being more aware of what was exhausting me, I spent less time at the hospital, had friends visit and take meals in, and was more careful not to take on the emotions and issues of everybody I saw at the hospital – and especially not to take on sympathy for my partner. By that I mean accepting that his current circumstances were the result of his own past choices in this lifetime and likely also lifetimes before. I was also concerned about leaving his dog on her own at home so much while I was at the hospital, so there was another level of underlying anxiety.
Once he was home, I was still anxious, worrying about his choices and being concerned that he wasn’t able to look after himself properly. Somehow I didn’t trust him and tried to control the situation, especially as he had been in hospital three times in three months and each time it had been the result of his over-doing things, trying to please or trying to prove he could do something.
He expressed to me that he was fed up with being treated like an invalid and I realised that my caring was in fact over-done and I was imposing.
I couldn’t not care, so how could I care without over-caring?
Supporting someone does not mean controlling: I needed to let go of control – everyone is responsible for their own choices and can learn from their consequences. By telling him what I felt he should do, I was not allowing him freedom to choose and, what is more, he wasn’t learning the lessons for himself. I realised that it was far more loving to let him take care of his own body, to make his own decisions and to support him in whatever way felt appropriate, but always to let him lead.
There may be choices he makes that I disagree with, but it is always his call. I can express what I feel, but I need to have absolutely no attachment to whether he listens or not. I also need to have no attachment to keeping him alive.
My partner had previously chosen to smoke and drink for many years but stopped getting drunk 27 years ago and drank smaller and smaller quantities until giving it up altogether because the smallest amount made him feel drunk. He also stopped smoking 8 years ago, so he had already made some great decisions for his health.
He took responsibility forty years ago for building a 46-foot yacht and sailing round the world in it with his family including two small children. He sailed into unknown waters and had to take responsibility for everyone’s health, often with no doctor available. During his travels he researched food and natural ways to support his own and his family’s health and they all survived very well. Now permanently back on land, he has access to both Western medicine and Naturopathic supplements and uses both to keep himself as healthy as he can, as well as continuing his research via the Internet.
Recently diagnosed with lung cancer and too sick for doctors to consider radiation treatment or chemotherapy, he is focusing on his daily self-care and his diet to keep the cancer at bay.
So, here am I with an uncertain future, not knowing what the prognosis is, supporting a man who is doing whatever he thinks is best to support himself. I don’t agree with all his food choices, but I can feel how important it is for him to feel in control of his own health and not be imposed upon by other people’s views.
Knowing that a healthy mind also supports our physical health, I am turning my efforts towards making sure I am always loving towards him, rather than reverting to the overbearing, constant caring and critical checking up on him. I am there beside him come what may and being lovingly supportive as much as I can, and I am working on letting go of the need to be right all the time!
In order to be loving with him, I know that I have to be loving with myself. That means getting a good night’s sleep, getting support from friends if I need it, eating nourishing foods and making sure I honour what I feel and express whatever is there to be expressed. I am learning to be less reactive and to always respond with love, which means being truthful, not pandering, not trying to please. I’m not perfect at it by any means – it is a huge learning for me, especially the letting go of control and attachment to outcomes. I’m also learning to be less critical of myself and to appreciate the lessons that are being presented to me every day.
Not for no reason have we constellated to being together. We are constantly reflecting and learning from each other, and the deepening of our love is what we are working on. However long we have together in the future, it is a relationship I shall always treasure because it is constantly helping me to evolve.
Published with my partner’s permission.
By Carmel Reid, Personal Development Coach and Counsellor from the UK, currently on a long term visit to Australia