Reprinted with the kind permission of Adele Paul.
By Adele Paul
Imagine this. You are going about life quite happily. You share your life with the man of your dreams. You have a few kids, a job you enjoy most of the time, and enough hobbies and friends to keep you busy, until, one day, your mother-in-law moves in. You're not sure why. You didn't invite her, and you're pretty sure your husband didn't either. You keep thinking she'll leave, but you notice her bags have been properly unpacked, and every time you bring up the subject of her departure, she changes the subject. Well, this is not unlike how I came to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You see, for me, as is the case for most with this illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome arrived in the form of what I thought was a simple stomach flu. So, as you would for a short-stay visit with your mother-in-law, I mentally prepared for a few days of misery and unpleasant interruptions, and assumed life would return to normal in a few days. This was not the case. The symptoms, particularly a crushing fatigue, hung around and hung around, and after a week or two, I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is a doozy of a flu!’ but, still fully assuming that the virus (or whatever it was) was going to vacate imminently, but over 3 years has passed since that time, and I’m still waiting. My metaphorical mother-in-law appears to have moved in for good.
Now, if you're one of the lucky bitches with one of those mail-order MIL's who knows how to mind her own business, who only shows up when you need childcare for a night out, and with whom you just can't wait to share the latest about your silver-infused dishcloth, you'll have to use your imagination here. I'm talking about the kind of mother-in-law who barges in unannounced at any time, gets right up in your face, tells you exactly how you are going to live your life, and, in all imaginable ways, sucks the very life-force out of you.
Like any respectable MIL, chronic fatigue is moody as hell. Some days you feel okay, and, if your unwelcome houseguest is feeling particularly generous, you may even be able to go out for a few hours. Some days her nagging presence is draining and makes daily life a small struggle. Other days, maybe if she has missed her hormone injections, watch out! She blows a complete and utter shit-fit, and it is these times when you are forced to spend days tiptoeing around her in her inexplicable fragile state lest you upset her and invoke her wrath further. Days like this, you carry your fatigue like a wet blanket, and the smallest of efforts become arduous if not impossible. It's not the best of situations, and one that continues to perplex me, but it's not all bad news. 3 years of living with my mother-in-law has taught me a few things…
1. Living with your mother-in-law won't kill you. In fact, you can live with her quite tolerably sometimes. Sometimes if you tread lightly, you can go weeks, even months, without significant confrontation. In much the same way, a sufferer of Chronic Fatigue may go through periods of ‘remission’ when their symptoms lift to some degree and they are able to increase their daily activities to some extent. It might be at a time like this that one dares hope that MIL has finally found herself other accommodations, but most find that something as little as a late night out or physically over-exerting themselves causes her to resurface with a vengeance. The sufferer then enters what is called a ‘relapse’ phase of the illness, and symptoms return. The severity ranges greatly from person to person. I have heard of others in the same situation where MIL arrived bringing her evil-twin sister and her angry dog in tow. While I am thankful that this has not been the case for me, it does not keep me from wishing my own would go away and wracking my brains as to why she showed up in the first place.
2. You cannot beat your mother-in-law. God knows I have tried. You cannot stuff her into the basement, you cannot ignore her for long, you cannot carry on as if she didn't exist, nor can you 'beat' her physically or metaphorically as some would their cancer. You can try a thousand ways to tell her take a hike, but it probably won't work. If you're desperate, you may even offer her drugs or supplements, or free counseling sessions if she will just leave you alone, but, for me, these things have only ever been met with moderate success. Above all, if you do things to spite her, you will pay and pay and pay. This, I find to be the crux of living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A lot of times, in the moment, I feel quite able to do such-and-such activity, say shovel my driveway, so I do it! It is only the next day that my body lets me know in no uncertain terms that, in fact, snow-shoveling was a BIG mistake. In Chronic Fatigue lingo, this is known as ‘post-exertional malaise.’ Over and over and over again, I have fallen victim to this pattern of over-doing and paying later–believing that MIL is gone and that I can live a normal life again–but the old hag just keeps coming back. The best advice I can give you, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, is to just accept her presence. You don’t have to like it, but respect it. Once I did that, life got a whole lot better for me.
3. A little kindness with MIL goes a long way. Three years of living with her, and, believe it or not, this is the best I've got. Kindness. Kindness? Yea, nauseating, I know. Sadly, after much soul-searching, bribing, pleading with her to vacate, and occasional attempts to leave her shit on the doorstep, I've learned it's best to approach living with MIL much the same way you would living with a stray cat. Give her what she wants, and life will be that much more tolerable. And basically what she wants is to sit around, quite painfully boringly, and be stroked. She likes her bed and doesn't take well to late nights. Trust me, and just oblige her on this one especially. Molly-coddle her when it comes to stressful situations to the best of your abilities, and hope for the best.
4. Choose your battles. Just as you would not bother getting into a fist-a-cuffs with your MIL over the way she loads the dishwasher, with Chronic Fatigue it’s best not to get too worked up when, say, you have to miss the ‘office do’ you were not particularly looking forward to. Don’t sweat these things, and only go to battle with your illness when the issue at hand is an absolute sticking point. For me, these are things like hot-date nights with my husband or evenings out with my besties—things I am willing to take a hit for if MIL decides she has something to say on the matter. As I said earlier, one of her more formidable qualities is her ability to make you pay and pay and pay if you piss her off somehow, so I just choose carefully when I’m willing to be on the receiving end of that.
5. You won't win every battle. If you live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it's best to learn to lose graciously. Like the MIL, this illness is stubborn as a mule and won’t miss many opportunities to flex its muscles. When this happens, I can’t stress enough the power of accepting defeat as the first step towards recovery. For my own sake, I use these times to drink a lot of tea with the MIL, reassure her that everything will be okay, and convince her to watch Downton Abbey with me until she is ready to bury the hatchet. Works every time…
Perhaps you are asking yourself why my mother-in-law just can't find somewhere else to live or maybe you think she’s a figment of my imagination. Maybe you've heard of people who've had success evicting their MIL and think I haven’t tried hard enough. Maybe you’re wondering why I haven’t tried such-and-such new treatment method that has had good results for some. I know I have. I’ve mentally been down all of these roads, I assure you. Though I will endeavor to my last breath to get her to permanently vacate, for now, I just have to concede that she has remarkable staying power.
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About the author: Adele Paul is an ex-teacher gone stay-at-home mommy and blogger with a passion for fine food and coffee. She lives in Saskatoon, Canada. Find her at: http://the-sisters-cafe.blogspot.ca/