Dear Annie: I’m struggling with a situation I can no longer handle. My husband has a long history of periodically “falling ill” with mystery illnesses the doctors treat as minor everyday issues, but which inevitably result in his being unable to function.
He is not able to work, help with chores, attend family functions or care for our kid. It’s most likely to happen when a commitment is coming up, such as the holidays, a work deadline or issues with my own chronic pain from stage 4 endometriosis.
We’ve adjusted our lives to accommodate this. First, he was a contract worker instead of 9-5; then, he was a stay-at-home dad. It’s been stressful to constantly have to carry all the weight, but he’s otherwise a lovely, funny, caring and supportive man. And when he’s well, things are wonderful.
Things came to a head during the COVID-19 pandemic. I needed emergency surgery, and within minutes of hearing that a date was set, he announced he had a severe injury and basically checked out.
I had to send my young son to stay with my parents for six weeks during my recuperation because I could not trust my husband to care for us both. It resulted in my caring almost entirely for myself during a very rough recovery.
After this, my mother-in-law approached me because she had come to believe his health issues were more psychological than physical. I agreed, and we started planning for an intervention.
Cue major mystery health issue — one so severe he’s basically bedridden and can only eat and perform basic functions through the constant consumption of various types of medical marijuana. This episode is so severe that doctors have spent the last several months testing him for many very scary conditions. It’s been terrifying and exhausting.
The doctors think he has a minor condition causing a lot of pain, but one that the doctors can’t seem to find a cause or treatment for. We all suspect that at least some of his doctors no longer take him seriously.
I know from my own medical experience that doctors can minimize chronic pain, but you need to be a strong and persistent self-advocate or you are unlikely to get effective treatment.
I’ve started pushing hard for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Ultimately, it’s difficult to know whether I should be asking for a psychological evaluation instead of pushing so hard for a treatment plan.
I’m utterly and completely exhausted from working full time, caring for our son when he’s not in school, handling both of our medical issues, and the general day-to-day. It’s affecting my own health in serious ways, and my career is in free fall.
I don’t trust my decision-making on this. I’m too emotional and tired.
— Burnt Out
Dear Burnt Out: If our bodies can be compared to car engines, yours is running on empty. You need to put some premium gas into your engine.
Ask yourself, what type of emotional and physical help would take off some of the pressure, and then act on that. Sometimes, chronic pain stems from unresolved anger.
The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain by the late Dr. John Sarno is a book that I would highly recommend for both of you. If your husband is not interested, give it to yourself as a gift.
Be selfish, at least until you feel filled up and can figure out how best to move forward. Even if his physical pain stems from the mind, he is clearly in emotional pain and needs help. I also think the constant consumption of marijuana is the worst possible solution for him.
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— A native Californian, Annie Lane writes her Dear Annie advice columns from her home outside New York City, where she lives with her husband, two kids and two dogs. Her debut book, Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie, features favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette. Email your Dear Annie questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.