In a recent blog I made reference to the complexity that is inherent in the need to accurately predict human responses to given stimuli. In certain instances prediction seems to amount to a relatively easy and straightforward matter. For example, it is not difficult to predict the drive and its likely ensuing impact and effects on behaviour in the case of, say, a ravenously hungry or thirsty man; or that of a typical mother whose child is perceived to be straying perilously close to a major and busy highway. On the other hand, facing and learning to cope with the certain and inevitable threat to life due to illness is likely to be perceived in a wholly different and more complex way and with possible outcomes which are much more hazardous to predict.
Just for a moment, actually think about the sheer welter of highly relevant and potentially supportive but equally conflicting, confounding variables that such a threat to life is likely to impose. The love and support of a husband or wife or of a parent or family member, is what motivates, energizes and keeps many people ‘afloat’ in times both good and bad. Yet that same precious ‘jewel’ of love and devotion comes at a price does it not, with the dawning realization that pain and heartbreak and ‘mind-blowing’ fear of its threat is, in reality, just as adjacent, i.e. the “other side” of that same ‘coin of love’. Just one of the many consequences of such an unavoidable state of affairs amounts to a decision – reached for the very noblest of reason – to withdraw somewhat and reduce the level of investment for a time (and with it, hopefully, the pain). But, of course, it really does “take two to tango” and in consequence, both ‘parties’ (as well as others around the periphery of family life) are likely to suffer and even themselves feel rebuffed and rejected (which, of course, was the very last outcome intended).
Another well known, but equally hazardous strategy, is to bring all of those observable and otherwise easily recognizable elements and indicators of coping up front and into the “shop window”, where they are observable to all. Do you recognize at least some of the outward effects of such a strategy? How many times have you heard what on the face of it sounds so reassuring and not infrequently comes as welcome relief to its hearers? “Well if anybody is going to cope with this, he is”: or, “When we went across to visit them last week she was up and about, making tea and chatting away fine style: she’s a wonderful woman really: one of life’s copers”. Of course – and in reality – such admittedly courageous and determined folk are (as just one outcome of such a strategy) all too likely themselves to become prisoners of their own apparent and increasingly feigned ability to manage satisfactorily. However, it is not infrequently the sad truth that in the face of such relentless stress and because others are only too ready to believe and receive “better news” about their loved one/friend or whoever, such patients are left with little or no resource at all to fall back upon, at a time of maximum need.
I do hope that in the above, I haven’t made ‘heavy weather’ for you in my attempt to outline certain problems and even ‘pitfalls’ arising from the need to cope with life-threatening illness. In my next posting, I hope to provide a glimpse of what is contained in the above; this time illustrated from real life experience. But one final word here: however you may come to regard what I have written above, I want to say – indeed to stress – and to express my unbounded admiration for the manner in which patients of all ages, of both sexes, suffering from a range of malignant illnesses and drawn from all stratas of society, have coped with their afflictions. It has been a steep learning curve for all concerned: hence my desire to pass something of my own ‘gleanings’ on to you, in the sincere hope that it will encourage and help to sustain you, your loved ones and indeed, any who are striving so courageously to cope with whatever burden. I do not know you personally; nor are our paths ever likely to cross; nevertheless, these postings are intended for you and it is genuinely to you that I write them.