Dec 1, 2002
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
AT TIMES IT'S HARD for me to know if I'm codependent on my loved one and his illness. It's important for me to care for my loved one while trying to keep my own individuality, but that's a hard line to draw. I had to teach myself to take notice when I felt needy. Then I had to make myself take care of my own needs. But first I needed to distinguish between being codependent and being a loving and responsible caregiver.
There are times when my husband's and my mother-in-law's needs must come first, but not to the extent that I cease to tend to my own needs. For a long time, I denied myself the opportunities to rest and to socialize. It wasn't long before I found myself isolated; the telephone no longer rang with invitations to lunch or a shopping trip to the mall.
After I'd fluffed my husband's pillow, tucked him into bed, and made sure all his needs were met, I internalized each comment, or lack of, as a rebuff that I wasn't doing all I could do. I wanted him to say "thank you" in some way-anything to let me know he appreciated me. I was afraid to leave him alone and soon became restricted by his schedule and needs. I had a problem knowing where the happy medium lay.
As caregivers, it's important that we find ways to care for ourselves. It's an absolute necessity that you have a regular time away from the chronically ill person. Having time just for yourself should be on your list of things to do today as well as tomorrow, even if it's only for an hour. Support groups can help you through the rough spots. These individuals are walking in the same shoes as you.
We can start to break our codependency by asking ourselves how much responsibility do we feel for our loved one and how much is too much? Some questions to ask ourselves are:
1. Is your loved one capable of handling certain tasks without assistance? Sometimes the only way to know if they can do these things is to allow them to try. If that task is getting dressed in the mornings, try to lay shirts, pants, and socks out in such a manner that will allow them to reach each item.
2. Does he or she try to accomplish tasks without your help? If so, let them know how proud you are of them. If they can't do a certain task, acknowledge that they at least are trying.
3. Do they get angry or resentful when you leave them in someone else's care? You can explain to them how important it is for you to get away for a while. If they aren't willing to recognize your need for this, don't argue, but go anyway. You have a right to your feelings.
4. If they try to handle certain tasks on their own and make a total mess, do you scold them and then take over, clean up the mess, and do the job yourself? I can't think of anything that would make someone feel more like a failure, yet I've done this myself.
5. How do you handle it when your loved one is verbally demanding? Sometimes it's better to walk out of the room: It's difficult to have an argument all alone. Approach them later and tell them how it made you feel.
We can overcome our codependency on our loved ones' MS if we can answer yes to the following questions:
Are you allowing them to help themselves as much as possible?
Are you encouraging them to take responsibility for their health and their actions?
Do you trust them to use their judgment as to what and how much they can do?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then you're truly allowing
them to be as independent as they are capable of being.
© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis