Question: My husband, 61, was diagnosed with liver disease last year. I am 55, work full-time, and take care of him. He has gone from being a very hard working man with patience and love to a very negative personality. He always has something snotty to say to me. I can't do anything right. He is frustrated with himself, his inability to work, and with feeling weak and sick all the time. I know this, but it is hard to deal with his verbal abuse day in and day out. I have to work full-time for our insurance, plus I also have an hour commute each way every day. I am continually going until late evening. He has been in the hospital and ER almost ten times since October, and we can never seem to catch up or regain our energy. We don't do anything anymore because of his health. He has no energy or sex drive anymore, and he doesn't care about my interests, comments or troubles. He has begun talking about "his things" and "his money". I am also frustrated with some of his family. They many times don't call before showing up and then stay too many days and wear out their welcome. The latest frustration is his stepmother who is 74 with medical issues. She wants to come and stay with us after his transplant, with his brother who has many medical issues and is so frail and can't do much of anything. My husband doesn't want me to say anything to them to hurt their feelings, but I cannot have them here when I know I will have many, many more issues than I do now. They will just be someone else for me to take care of and have in our home. I really would like to have one of my sisters, except I don't know if any of them will be able to come, as they all work and have their own families and are halfway across the nation. We are trying to get him approved for disability social security, and may have to put our house up for sale, so we're trying to do cosmetic things to get it ready. We have so many doctor bills, we have been dipping into what little savings we had to pay our living expenses. How do I deal with his family and my stress?
Dr. Amy: You are coping with a great deal. Not just one issue, but four: your husband’s ill health, his stress and personality change, family issues, and financial pressures. It’s a lot, and you need strategies and regular support to help you cope. There is more here than I can speak to in a short column, but here are some thoughts to get you started. Your husband may be struggling with depression, so I suggest that he talk to his family doctor and get assessed for depression. If he refuses to do so, you can call his doctor and let him know your concerns. It is not uncommon for people suffering from a serious illness to also experience situational depression. The good news is that it can be treated.
If your insurance covers counseling, this would be a great help— both for you and for your husband. You need someone you can talk to on a regular basis to coach you through the family issues and your own worries. Your husband would benefit from having someone who can help him work through the difficult emotions he is feeling. At the same time, I encourage you to find out what support groups are nearby. Your local hospital can help you with this. You might like to join a group for family members of people with liver disease, while your husband could join one for people suffering from his condition. Talking to people who are on the same path can be a tremendous help. If you are a member of a faith community, the leader can also direct you—and offer you support and guidance.
I encourage you to take very good care of yourself during this time. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Even a 30 minute walk will help you deal with the stress, and eating a balanced diet will boost your energy level. During times of increased stress, it’s especially important that we take care of our physical wellbeing as well as our emotional wellbeing. The two are tied together. Make this a priority, and you’ll be glad you did. Good luck.
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