the wake of illness

I’m increasingly aware that my clients often spend as much time and energy dealing with the wake mental illness creates, as they do with the illness its self to begin with.  I work with a lovely group of clients who fight hard to feel better whether coping with life issues, developmental issues, anxiety disorders or mood disorders.  And, time and time again — they do get better.

Unfortunately, when finally “all better” though, life so often just isn’t all better too.  Then, they have to contend with that wide and long wake that illness creates.  Those broken things that didn’t get tended to during hard times.  The grades which slipped when not feeling 100%.  The complicated relationships which grew more complicated amidst murky moods and times.  The endless chores of life that just didn’t get done.

Medical illness, too, has a wake.  I’m still sometimes digging out from my cancer’s wake a year later, I find.  Sure, I feel good now.  But, life is not the same as before I went a round with cancer.  There are chores that still lag,  people I was less attentive to when ill, and opportunities that passed by.  Perhaps most dismaying, when distracted by cancer, time slipped by too quickly, and I hardly noticed as my children stopped being so little.

Is this just a dismal subject?  I don’t think so.  I think there’s use in it.  First of all, for those of us who have been ill, maybe an awareness of this broad and long wake can help us to become more gentle with ourselves and to continue to ask for support even as we gratefully recover.

Second of all, for those of us in the medical fields, perhaps an awareness of the broad wake of illness can help us to be better docs.  Once the acute symptoms fade, we can still make sure to pause and listen.  We can redouble our efforts to check in with the patient about lingering concerns or side effects or fears or impacts of illness.   I know this isn’t a rocket science sort of perspective.  I know good docs do this all of the time.  I also know as a patient that it actually really matters.