I need perspective on the dread I feel about how short life is.
March 30, 2015 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Can you set me straight about the urge I get to control my husband's eating and exercise habits?

About 4 months ago my 60 year old mother got seriously ill (stroke, comma, paralyzed in bed, thankfully didn't die but it was by far the most awful time of my life). For about two months, her doctors were absolutely sure she would die soon. I saw my father incredibly distressed about this and I think it traumatized me a little. After her stroke, I have become acquainted with things I never thought about before: changing my mother's diapers, administering medications, taking care of her tracheotomy, and a bunch of things that 6 months ago would have made me faint.

The unexpected issue is I am now becoming a little obsessed with my husband's health. I feel betrayed if I see him eating unhealthy food, for example. Like he is robbing me of my happy married years by shortening his own life. I can tell that this is related to my witnessing dad's despair at the prospect of losing his wife (which doesn't mean I didn't suffer about my mom, but damn my suffering was dwarfed by his).

My husband is being patient about this and even though he eats pretty healthily and exercises often, he tries to humor me by being even more careful. But I am just getting too controlling and I also don't want to live my life in fear of becoming a widow or having him paralyzed in bed. This sounds ridiculous but these are the things that come to my head if he skips the gym, for example. I start reciting to him the benefits of cardio and how his arteries are probably almost clogged because he used to love butter and I get all together so weird about this that I may end up stressing myself to an early grave, funnily enough.

Can you help me put things in perspective? Tell me how much say I should have when it comes to my husband's habits and daily routine?
posted by Tarumba to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Tell me how much say I should have when it comes to my husband's habits and daily routine?

None? The only say you really have is leaving - you can't make him do anything. All you can do is make both of you miserable with trying to control him. You're already stressed. You say "he eats pretty healthily and exercises often" so you're being pretty unreasonable by asking for more. You'd have a case if he were smoking and drinking all day, but you still couldn't make him do anything in that case, you could only express your concerns (and/or leave).
posted by desjardins at 9:00 AM on March 30, 2015 [8 favorites]

It sounds like to me you would benefit from treatment of the underlying anxiety that is causing the issue here. Surely on a rational level you understand that eating well and exercising does not guarantee a long life. Nothing will. You need to work on treating the root anxiety rather than ruining your marriage by setting up pointless, unreasonable demands.
posted by something something at 9:07 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, I am 100% aware that this is irrational. I was hoping MeFites would give me arguments I can use to calm down when I get the urge to to give my husband 10 pounds of broccoli.
posted by Tarumba at 9:12 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would try to reframe things a bit. What sort of quality of life/marriage are you guys going to have if your husband perhaps lives 4 months longer because he went to the gym 5 times a week instead of 4 times a week, but you guys were constantly fighting, stressed out, and miserable.

In terms of habits and daily routine, I think you basically get zero say as a unilateral decision. As a team/couple, I think it's perfectly reasonable for you guys to have a discussion aboout the health choices you want to make as a couple. For example, most couples don't eat completely separate meals, so if one person wants to make some dietary changes, it makes sense to discuss how that will be handled (i.e. including more vegetables in each meal, cutting down on red meat, reducing take-out, etc. could certainly be a goal for you guys as a couple, since you're probably sharing dinner most nights). Having a shared sense of goals here both makes practical sense and I think can be great as a couple. Similar,y making it a goal to hit the gym together can be awesome and motivating -- my partner and I do this.

That said, whatever agreements you guys make should be about broad goals, not daily micromanaging. I would not last long with a partner who thought it was appropriate to monitor every single gym visit or dessert. Even separate from the fact that this is really not okay for adults to do to each other, no single gym visit or dietary splurge is going to make ANY difference on long-term health -- it's about your overall habits, activity level, and food choices, not about being perfect 100% of the time. (In fact, I think trying to be perfect 100% of the time commonly tends to lead to eating disorders, not a healthy mind and body.)
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:14 AM on March 30, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Parental frailty/illness/death is a bitch, and many, many people need extra/outside help to deal with all the issues that will inevitably come up while you're in the middle of it.

I'm going through a similar situation, and though my reactions to it are different from yours, they are similarly extreme, unrealistic, and ultimately unhealthy. I've recognized that my emotions and thought processes are hurting me more than they're helping, and I don't think I can turn off the spigot on my own.

I need a therapist, and from what you've said here, I imagine you do, too. I can tell you that the only thing that turns off the inner voice telling me to do and say crazy things in response to my dad's health is excessive, pathological dependence on Netflix to get me out of my own head. That, and the occasional dose of ativan.

Something like this, I'm not sure how useful self-talk strategies are going to be. This is one time I can comfortably say to someone on AskMe: I think therapy would be of infinite use to you right now.
posted by kythuen at 9:25 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

You can't control what another adult does. If you try, you run the risk of alienating him and maybe even making him want to leave. Trying to control another adult will almost certainly affect the quality of your marriage for the worse. I think most adults would find it annoying at the very least if someone were trying to control them this way. A lot of people, frankly, would consider it to be a dealbreaker in a relationship. He might start doing passive-aggressive things like sneaking food or lying to you about what he eats or how often he goes to the gym. And a lot of people would find it kind of hard to put all the blame for that on him, given the circumstances.

Don't try to passive-aggressively change his habits, either. If you want to (say) include more vegetables in the meals you cook for both of you, discuss that with him first, and realize that he does have the right to refuse to do something that you think would make him healthier. That's true even if you don't think he has a good reason for refusing to do it. Don't bring your mother into the discussion as a means of guilting him into going along with changes, either.

It's not your job to monitor his eating or exercise habits, unless he has explicitly asked you to do this. It's not your job to determine what his daily routine should be, again unless he has asked you to do that. You can tell him how you're feeling, but you can't tell him what to do.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In moments like this, I cheer my intention but acknowledge that my execution is piss poor. Wanting my partner to be healthy is coming not just from fear, but from a loving place that I want the best for him.

So in this moments, I remind myself that my approach - AAHHH, stop drinking rockstars!!!!!!!!!! - isn't going to get me the outcome I want, particularly at that moment, when he's tired (which is why he's drinking the rockstar).

Then I slip a cinnamon altoid into my mouth, because they burn your tongue a little bit. visceral reminder that I i want to say it, but really don't have to.
posted by It's a Parasox at 9:30 AM on March 30, 2015 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I sometimes find that realistically thinking through the worst-case scenario can be, perversely, helpful in calming my anxiety.

In your position, I might think: Ok, what if my husband does die of a heart attack tomorrow? I would be sad and angry and scared, but I would have the support of [friends/family/church/whomever]. I would have to figure out our [finances/retirement/life insurance] or maybe get a job. I would need to learn how to [do household maintenance/find a decent mechanic/cook for myself/etc.]. I could do those things, or I could learn how to do them, or I could find someone else to do them. So I would be sad and angry and scared, but I would get through it and be ok.

In my more anxious moments, the thoughts might be something closer to "OMG I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO TURN OFF THE SMOKE DETECTOR WHEN IT GOES OFF WHEN I'M BURNING DINNER AND I WILL DIE OF MY EARDRUMS EXPLODING AND KILL THE CATS FROM THE SMOKE FROM THE BURNED DINNER," at which point taking a breath and trying to re-engage the step-by-step problem-solving part of my brain can be helpful. ("I can use a chair to reach the smoke detector. I can take the battery out. I can turn off the oven and open a window. I can order a pizza. I will be able to feed myself.")

That thought exercise might then give me a bit of a checklist of things I could control about myself that I could focus on instead, like knowing about any life insurance or investments or other financial stuff; it might also prompt me to realize that if I do end up alone, I'd want to be as independent and healthy as I could reasonably be so maybe I'll focus on my own health and fitness for right now, and maybe learn some new skills that have been scaring me to tackle.

In general, a lot of health-anxiety-by-proxy tends to be coming from the thought "I'll never be able to survive on my own." So, focusing on developing one's ability to be independent, and reassuring oneself that one can indeed survive on one's own -- it may not be fun, or ideal, or pleasant, but it's possible -- can often help calm the anxiety.
posted by jaguar at 9:30 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This isn't terribly unusual, it's part of the PTSD that comes with medical crises (and I've known people who've gone through it after the arrival of a child, for obvious reasons) and a difficult confrontation with mortality.

But if you feel like it's not fading back into perspective and is maybe becoming obsessive, it may be time to talk to a professional. You've been through a lot and it's okay to get some expert help in getting it all sorted out.

And also, you just have to stop saying these things out loud to him. It's destructive, and you're recognizing it, but maybe you're not thinking of it as reducing your happy productive years together? Get help with this because you love him and want to be with him for a long time.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:39 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You should read The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James. It deals with a very similar issue.
posted by alms at 9:49 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like jaguar's approach when I'm spinning my mental wheels about things I can't control, but I also wonder whether you have access to support services for caregivers? This is seriously stressful stuff you're dealing with, and talking to people who know what you're going through might be helpful.

I agree with Lyn Never that this reaction doesn't seem to be uncommon when dealing with an event that brings your loved ones' mortality to the fore. And it's very thoughtful of your husband to be accommodating of it right now. Would you accept from him (and would he be able to give) gentle reminders that this isn't actually helping you when you start verbalizing your anxieties? Along the lines of "I love you, this is anxiety talking?" Or establish an agreement that if you want to verbalize this anxiety or start to do it, that you can leave the room or stop mid-sentence and doing some deep breathing or something like that, so he recognizes when you're trying to control your anxieties?

Best wishes to you.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:52 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I empathize with you (down to realizing how irrational it is!). Three things have helped me.

First, research is constantly changing. Decades ago, vegetable fats were universally "better for you" than animal fats. Now, egg yolks and butter are favored over margarine. Decades ago, it was thought pregnant women shouldn't exercise. Now, it's encouraged. This uncertainty can provoke feelings of anxiety, but I find it useful to remind myself that dietary research is constantly in flux and that there is no one right way to do things. Rather than hyper-focusing on avoiding some foods, instead aim for general sensible principles like "eat vegetables" and "eat a variety of food in moderation".

Second, this one is kind of morbid, but there's a pervasive idea in American society that people who have fallen ill have "done this to themselves" with poor diet or exercise or whatever. And although I am all for sensible diet and exercise, even the most fit paleo marathoners or whatever get sick. Just because someone has a stroke or a heart attack doesn't mean that all the kale in the world could have stopped it. Sometimes, poor health or car accidents happen even to people who have done everything "right", and sometimes alcoholics and heavy smokers live into their 90s. That's just the way things are. There are no guarantees of health and happiness; all we can do is try to set ourselves up for success in old age and hope for the best.

Finally, focus on the positive. Your husband already eats pretty healthily and goes to the gym! That shows you that he does value his health, just as you do. You both have generally compatible views of maintaining physical health, and that's really valuable. That shows me that at a foundational level, whether one of you has a significant medical event at the age of 42 or gradually accepts new physical limitations at the age of 83, you both think it's important to live well for each other. Part of living well is accepting that not only will someone not eat and exercise perfectly, but also that a single perfect way to eat or exercise doesn't exist. Balance includes acceptance, and rest, and the occasional indulgence to de-stress. We do our best in making dietary or exercise choices -- and then we move on with the other good stuff that life has to offer.

Your husband and your mother are lucky to have you, by the way. Please be sure to give yourself a break too.
posted by nicodine at 10:03 AM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]

Once you've got a couple of ideas for re-thinking (as per rainbowbrite and jaguar), it can be useful to purposefully expose yourself to what you fear and practise re-thinking your thoughts in that controlled situation.

For example, serve your husband some bacon. Think about how it's clogging his arteries as he eats it. Then re-frame. What's the worst that could happen? How will I deal with if he drops over and dies right now? Would I rather be constantly trying to control my husband, or have him die early and happy of a bacon heart attack?
posted by clawsoon at 10:07 AM on March 30, 2015

I would use the anxiety as a reminder to enjoy now now and not waste now worrying about later. Don't waste any time. Imagine how mad you'll be at yourself if you worry about this and stop enjoying your husband and then he gets hit by a bus and his eating habits didn't matter at all in the end.
posted by janey47 at 10:10 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

You do realize that, even if you were able to get rid of all of his sub-optimal health habits, there would still be no guarantee that he wouldn't die young or be paralyzed? He could have a genetic predisposition to heart problems, like Jim Fixx, or an accident, like Christopher Reeve, or a condition that we have no idea what causes it, like Stephen Hawking, to give a few examples. There really is no way for anybody to guarantee a long and healthy life. Nagging him about his eating and exercise habits is, however, a decent way to guarantee that you won't have a long, healthy, and happy life together.
posted by Anne Neville at 10:15 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: your husband means so much to you because he is going to die one day. make the time you have with him full of joy and pleasure, not nagging and anxiety. let your worrying spin out to the most extreme consequence in your mind, then stop, redirect, and remind yourself: none of that is happening right now, here, in this moment. this moment which i should enjoy with him.

your mother meant so much to your father because her time with him is limited too, and vice versa. the shadow of death is what gives life meaning, not makes it meaningless!
posted by zdravo at 10:57 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

As others have said, you can't (and shouldn't try to) control your spouse's behavior. The best you can do is let him know how much he means to you and that you really want him to be around, happy and healthy, for a long time. You might also deal with any practical things that you're not prepared for: will, life insurance, etc.

It's totally normal to get more worried about this after your mother's stroke, but your husband sounds healthy and is probably not going to just drop dead unexpectedly, especially not due to minor lifestyle choices. At my house we have one of those angry bunny magnets on the fridge where the caption says:

1. Eat right.
2. Exercise hard.
3. Die anyway.

Funny and morbid, but it reminds me that I should do 1 + 2 to maximize my ability to enjoy life for as long as possible, but that there's no sense trying to stop the inevitable. See memento mori.

I am pretty healthy, but part of why I exercise is so that I can do things like drink beer and eat bacon. I wouldn't enjoy a 100 year ascetic life. Find your own balance between the long and short term and let your husband find his.

Good luck, and I'm sorry that you've had so much to deal with lately.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:19 AM on March 30, 2015

Best answer: You have no idea when either you or your husband will die or become disabled. This is a fundamental truth that we manage to avoid by acting as if we have control of our lives. This can be adaptive coping - it's hard to imagine how we could go about our day to day lives if we were constantly reminded of our mortality.

Your mother's stroke reminded you of this fundamental truth. It's a terrible thing and it's also a wake-up call as in, "wake up to life! wake up to what's important to you!" Spend your time with what's important.

Knowing that your life as you know it could end at any time, how do you want to live with the time you have? When your feeling anxious and panic-y about your husband, take a moment to remind yourself that you probably don't want to spend your precious time on earth nagging your husband about his behavior. What you probably want is to spend the precious time you have filled with love for him, your mother, and your father.

If you can, take a deep breath when you see him skipping exercise or eating cheetos or whatever, and try to look at him with love, affection, and appreciation for who he is.
posted by jasper411 at 11:58 AM on March 30, 2015

Best answer: Your real fear is of losing your husband. The concern about health is just the particular framing, and it's what you're focusing on for two reasons: first, obviously, because of what you witnessed with your parents, and second, because his health seems like something that he (and, by extension, you) can control. Every time you focus on his workouts or vegetables or something like that, throw all the details aside and remind yourself: your real fear is of losing your husband.

I started having similar bouts of anxiety after my dad died; it wasn't health-specific, but I constantly worried about losing the people I loved. Or about dying, myself. It was terrifying and persistent, and I sympathize. For me, the details had a tendency to change with the circumstances, so you may want to watch out for that: you may stop worrying about when your husband last worked out and start worrying about him, say, driving at night.

It helps me to visualize two different things: the worst possible outcome and the most likely outcome. In the case of the worst possible outcome, it's hard and painful, but survivable, and reminding myself that I can get through anything helps me. The most likely outcome, of course, is the regular old status quo happening right now: I'll wake up tomorrow morning and we'll all be fine. And, so far, we have been.

I think therapy would be a great idea for you. I know that's an old chestnut, but I think talk therapy is especially suitable for anxiety issues, because you can bounce all your fears off someone who won't judge you or fight you or call you crazy, and who can help you develop and refine strategies to disarm them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:58 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

You should have no say in what he eats and drinks. When you see him consuming something that worries you, think (and maybe comment about) any of the things he does that you do like or appreciate. With all the worrying out loud about what your husband is doing, you're taking away from his and your own enjoyment of life. Keeping quiet about his food choices is actually a positive thing.

Often, when a person is feeling a lot of anxiety about a particular thing, what's really going on is that they have overwhelming emotions about other things. So it's sort of a coping mechanism: "I'm freaking out about X and I don't know how to handle it, so I'm going to turn my attention to Y and try to control that." This is totally understandable, but it's good to recognize when it's affecting you.

I'm very sorry about your mom's health problems and how hard that is for all of you.
posted by wryly at 12:37 PM on March 30, 2015

I share your fear. I adore my husband, and he is not good at all about either exercise or food. His diabetes 2 diagnosis a few years back has not appreciably changed this. I know it will not be fun if he, for example, has a stroke. And I also know, though they never say this, that his family members wonder why I stay relatively thin and fit and he has not.

But I NEVER allow this fear to influence our relationship in any respect. Frankly, I love him too much and feel too fortunate to be married to him to endanger what we have now. So, this is a private fear, which I sometimes reflect on privately, not one I talk to him about. I do talk to him about my own stuff, like what kind of diet I am trying to follow, or my training program for running, but we never relate any of that to him. (And that has actually worked the best . . . it is when I am trying hard to be nutritarian, for example, that my husband's own eating is healthiest, because he is trying to support me.) I also listen and try to be supportive and constructive when he talks to me about his doctor visits or medication or exercise he would like to do.

I may die first. We both may go in some sudden way like a car accident. Or perhaps my husband's health risks will catch up with him and I'll be main caretaker. In any event, our time now is relatively to very happy. I'm OK with paying that price.

My best suggestion is face your fear, privately or with a counselor, but don't inflict it on him. I'll tell you regular floats (2 x a month) have helped me with a sense of perspective on this and a lot of other issues.
posted by bearwife at 12:53 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fear of death is almost inevitable after almost losing a parent like that. It shakes your world to see that people you love can just leave. I know it's cliche but try living in the moment. What you have today might be gone tomorrow. Instead of worrying about what you can't control, hug everyone. Tell them every day how much they mean to you. When you want to stress out on your husband, stop, deep breath, then tell him how much you love him. Good luck.
posted by irisclara at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2015

Best answer: It might help to keep in mind that you are dealing with small percents and apparent trends and many correlations between statistics that are far from proven from being causation. There is so much of an industry around the health, diet and exercise questions that very little reliable information is actually available. When it comes to dietary studies they make a lot of strong assertive pronouncements - Eat Mediterranean for Long Life! Kale is Good! Avoid All Poly-Olio-Mono-Pepto-Saccharides! If you actually sit down with the studies and read the fine print it will show that only six human studies have been done on poly-olio-mono-pepto-saccharides, one had a reverse result and the results of the other five ranged from 2% to 11% of which two were done on prisoner populations who have reduced life expectancy anyway, one had a test group of four people and a control group of three, and finally one was really on mono-olio-poly-pepto-saccharides instead.

Much of the research on diet and lifestyle indicates that being poor, miserable and only having a few choices in life tends to make you die young. But people who are poor, miserable and don't have access to fresh vegetables don't eat a lot of kale, so we say that they die young because of the kale and not because of all the other linked factors.

I'm afraid that you might be falling under the seduction of magical thinking. If I strap my child into a car seat he won't be killed in a car accident. If I pray to Saint Jude and publish the prayer in the newspaper three days running my husband will stop running around. If I don't step on a crack on the sidewalk the bears won't eat me. If my husband never eats another piece of bacon he will not die young.

Where we use to pray to various different patron saints we now try to control the world by following the best media hyped health program. Instead of praying to the patron saint of diarrhea we take probiotics. Instead of praying to the patron saint of widows we sign our husband up for gym membership. Being virtuous so that you deserve good fortune is the common strategy between saint worship and health worship. Unfortunately it really doesn't work. Or not more than about a five percent difference, which could easily be the placebo effect.

When a situation is a critically important one, you want to feel that you have control over it. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you are using a little bit of displacement to help you deal with your disgust, love, grief, terror, woe and fear from what happened to your mother. You reassured us that you are coping fine, not to worry, your Dad is suffering much more... which is generally a red flag that you went into coping mode to get through the horrible situation and now bits of your anguish and panic and deep feelings of do-not-want and fear of abandonment are coming up to the surface and being focused on your husband. In fact, maybe, just a little bit you might be angry, but of course you can't feel angry at your poor helpless mother for needing her diapers changed, or your poor helpless father for not stepping back into the daddy role and masterfully bringing your mother back to health with the strength of his love - so the pressure is escaping in the direction of your husband who is now your primary person instead of your mother.

My suggestion then is to tell yourself that you are having a panic attack about your mother every time you start to focus on your husband's longevity needing to be under your control. Never mind your husband, start working on YOU. When you get intent on controlling how much he eats and how much exercise he gets it's a signal that your emotions need to be looked after. You need to be comforted or to throw a tantrum, or indulge in a hearty bout of tears, or climb into a warm bath and meditate, whatever works for you to bring your emotional equilibrium back.

The very first thing I would suggest you do when the intrusive thoughts arrive is to stop moving, just stand still and breathe really slowly and deeply and comfortably and tell yourself that your emotions are real and valid and justified - but the direction they are going is not going to help you.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:49 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm very sorry you are having a hard time right now. You sound like a very caring person, and I think it's great that you recognize your impulse to control your husband and are trying to resist it. Honestly, I think that's the biggest step: to know that you are experiencing anxiety that is real, but not based in rational thought. Deep down, you know the answer to your question about how much say you can have over what your husband eats and how he exercises.

I think I can sort of relate to what you are going through. After we had a second trimester pregnancy loss last year (which was traumatic for both of us), I found myself very anxious when my partner would leave the house to do errands or other perfectly normal things he did as a matter of routine. When he was out of my sight, I worried that he would die while I wasn't there. I imagined him getting hit by a car or keeling over from a heart attack while walking, or getting in a car accident while driving. It was very hard for me to dispel these thoughts, but obviously I couldn't just prevent him from leaving the house or glue myself to him and never let him go anywhere alone. The thoughts did go away eventually with time and active effort on my part to deal with my anxiety.

Personally, I think these thoughts you are having are very normal. You have experienced something traumatic (nearly losing your mom, seeing her so close to death and incapacitated) that made you feel a loss of control. You are now anxious about losing another person you love, your husband. You want to do everything in your power to prevent having to go through the loss (or near-loss) of someone else you love dearly.

The thing is, you (and I) can't do anything about keeping our loved ones safe, not really. As nicodine said above, "There are no guarantees of health and happiness; all we can do is try to set ourselves up for success in old age and hope for the best." We really have much less control than we think over what happens to us or our loved ones. We can (as it sounds like your husband does) eat healthy food, exercise and practice safety and caution and STILL things can go wrong. Obviously we can all attempt to have healthier habits, and that can help some, but nothing can prevent the possibility of random death.

It might seem counterintuitive, but for me, really thinking this through and accepting it helped a lot. It's not that I don't worry about my partner--I really hope he does not get hit by a car, or keel over from a heart attack, or get in a car accident--but I have mostly accepted that there's not a lot I can do about those possibilities. We try to eat a varied diet in reasonable moderation, we try to stay active, and that helps. But sometimes I just have to say a mantra to myself: Sometimes bad shit happens and we can't prevent it. But if it happens, I know I can deal with it.

Big hugs. I hope you find some peace from your anxiety soon.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:31 PM on March 30, 2015

Best answer: Oh, I am 100% aware that this is irrational. I was hoping MeFites would give me arguments I can use to calm down when I get the urge to to give my husband 10 pounds of broccoli.

I think you just need some time. It hasn't been that long. That's pretty traumatic. It takes time to absorb that into day to day again.

There is fuck-all that will keep the bad things from happening. Worst thing is, I'll spend all my time worried about Alzheimer's and be killed by a piano falling on my head. We all do our best but living a life of two hour gym appointments and steamed broccoli is pretty miserable and being truly happy and joyous in the world surely must have some kind of immunological impact. So there's got to be a balance.

I tell myself this: there is fuck-all that keeps the good things from happening, too.

Control the best you can (wear a seatbelt; try not to eat too much fried cheese) but not to the degree that it erodes the joy of being alive. Don't eat *no* fried cheese.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:54 PM on March 30, 2015

I also don't want to live my life in fear of becoming a widow or having him paralyzed in bed.

This is a private fear, which I sometimes reflect on privately, not one I talk to him about.

I have had feelings like this a lot, too, since I've watched my father go through three strokes, lose his ability to perform most activities of daily living, and gradually decline in assisted living and then a nursing home. When a family member was recently hospitalized, I would go by the hospital every day, see all these good-looking people walking around, and wonder why they were there, concluding that even if they weren't there for dire medical tests, they were still walking skeletons. I'd see them and think things like, "Yeah, you're cute, but you're just going to get sick and die like everyone else..." I would look at the fit nurses and wonder whether they stayed healthy and physically fit because they saw so much mortality around them, or whether they were just a different breed of person. I had a lot of time to think (and feel guilty for thinking) those dark thoughts about what I would do if the worst things happened, and wonder why I should bother even getting to know people if everyone's just going to get sick...

But this is not something I can let change the way I relate to my spouse's choices. I can only let it guide me to better choices, and hopefully take him along that path with me. There are a lot of good answers in this thread.
posted by limeonaire at 6:56 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I was little I convinced myself that if my mom went to work that day she would die in a car accident and I cried and begged her not to go. She explained that she *had* to go *because* I was so scared of it. If she didn't go to work and didn't die, I might become convinced of my own (imaginary) psychic abilities and totally freak myself out and make everyone crazy, whereas if she went to work and didn't die, I could learn that there's a difference between fears and reality.

Maybe this thought experiment helps?

Imagine if you could completely control your husband's diet and lifestyle, and he didn't sicken this year and didn't sicken next year, etc etc, how would you feel about permitting yourself or your dad or anyone else you cared about to not live *exactly* the same way, if you came to believe that his health was due to your lifestyle choices for him. On the other hand, imagine that bad luck strikes and he does sicken and die (or gets hit by a bus while exercising), how would you feel knowing that you completely controlled his diet and lifestyle and were unable to protect him from this?? Where did you go wrong? What should you have done differently??

Thinking you have an inside line to how a person should live - that's crazy-making - for them and for you.

It is so hard and it shakes everything up to take care of and lose a parent the way that you have. And I'm not sure that minimizing your grief/comparing it to your dad's is doing you any favors. I think you should see if you can just tell yourself that this is your grief and anxiety talking, not your sense, and they need your care and attention to yourself, not to your husband's lifestyle and diet. I guess that all of this stuff will gradually fade as you just keep on keeping on but if it doesn't, then maybe some specific anti-anxiety measures or meds could help.

Hang in there. Losing a mom sucks. Maybe check out the Motherless Daughters resources. They are very helpful for me.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:43 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

You do only live once, so yes, you should take care of yourself, but you should also enjoy it. It sounds like your husband does take care of himself, and I've seen people with really horribly shitty lifestyle choices live a long time and different circumstances with people who lived really healthy lifestyles. You want to believe watching his diet and exercise will guarantee he will live until he's 100, but you don't know that. That's why you do what you can, but still need to enjoy yourself a bit. When you can't enjoy it anymore, you'll wish you had. So let him have that cookie without worrying about it. The cookie won't do him in.

The situation with your mom is hard and I'm sorry you've had to go through this. It's understandable that you are worried, but hopefully you can reach of place of acceptance once you've had some more time to process it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:37 PM on March 30, 2015

Response by poster: Jane the Brown, I think you figured it out. At a level I knew this wasn't about my husband's lifestyle, but you have driven the point home for me.

I really appreciate the responses of everyone who has been through similar situations and how they dealt with their feelings. I am considering seeing a counselor and I found the book alms recommended, which sounds like it's exactly what I need.

For 30 years I was childishly ignorant of what death and illness really meant and when mom had her stroke it felt like this curtain of horror opened to reveal that the people I love are all just bodies that will sooner or later be corpses. Trying to control my husband's habits is just a feeble attempt at closing that curtain and I see now that it's useless because it's like trying to cover the sun with my finger.

What I need to do is accept that all I have is now and I have to make the most of it.

I went to stay with mom for 3 months and managing healthcare was the toughest thing I've done, but the stress and the exhaustion were distractions. I didn't have time to consider mortality with ambulance calls in the middle of the night and having to focus on keeping her alive for one more day every day. Now that I am back home I think I am facing all the fears I bottled because it wasn't practical to let them out before.

Thank you so much, everyone.
posted by Tarumba at 7:17 AM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Tarumba, I provided grief counseling for a few years, and I found that the people in grief who, like you, were able to recognize that much of their anxiety was coming from the new bone-deep realization that the universe is an uncertain, uncontrollable place tended to come out of the active grieving process on much stronger footing than those who tried to jam that realization out of their consciousness and cover up that reality by micromanaging themselves and others ("trying to cover the sun with my finger" is the perfect description).

It's scary to give up that illusion of control over your own existence, and the process of feeling like you need to try to control everything in the meantime is a normal part of the process of accepting that reality and relinquishing the illusion.

When my own mother died, I found Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart to be an immensely helpful book. It's not just about grief, but it does talk about how we can use grief, trauma, and other negative events as a way of moving forward rather than retreating into anxiety.
posted by jaguar at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

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