I feel compelled to go into a quick set of personal info before getting into my advice. My wife was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of ten, long before I met her. We met in college, and after graduation, we decided to get married. In 1999, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis after a checkup for what we thought were symptoms of the diabetes. I am not going to get into the descriptions of either disease as they are well described here on E2. Rather, I would rather focus on the lessons learned from being the one NOT afflicted with a serious illness.
To Have and To Hold
The most important thing that I can tell you is to always be there for your loved one. This may seem obvious, but in some cases the healthy partner in the relationship sometimes drifts away, not knowing how to deal with such a tremendous undertaking. This is not to say you have to be physically present every minute of your loved one's life.
Example, shortly after my wife was diagnosed, I began pursuing a new job where she works. I got the job, and I can't say that I regret it. However, this was a kneejerk reaction. Fortunately, it took almost two years to get a position in the office, and in that time I learned that I wanted to work there for other reasons. It also gave me time to put things into perspective, such as my wife is not an invalid. She is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. And she is perfectly capable of letting me know it, too.
Even with this new perspective, we did end up getting ourselves a set of cell phones, which primarily serve to make sure that if she has an MS attack, I am notified wherever I am. I can be there in short order if I have to be, but this gives me the freedom to live my own life as well. I play paintball on the weekends, or as I refer to it, the four hours I DON'T spend with my wife every week. But she knows that I am there for her if she needs me.
For Richer, For Poorer
There will be times when it seems like things can't get any worse. Diabetes requires regular insulin injections, and MS requires a weekly intermuscular injection. My wife can't live without the insulin, but she could get by without the MS shot. Sometimes she skips, because of the side effects. It is important that you stand on your loved one and make sure they seek, receive, and keep up with the treatment for their illness. There is a reason for medication, other than drug company profits. She really does feel better the day after she takes her shot.
There will be scares along the way, as well. Some illnesses such as her's have nasty symptoms. For example, there was the time her eyes functioned independently of the other, and she had to wear a patch. She became very dependent upon others. And at one point, our general-practitioner doctor thought we couldn't have kids because of the one-two punch of both diseases (this has since been changed after a couple of visits to specialists, praise God). Things will look awfully dim. The best thing you can do is keep your head up, look at alternatives, and be supportive of your loved one. There are two in this relationship, and sometimes you will have to have enough strength for two. Of course, this works in reverse, and sometimes your loved one will have to support you as well. By no means am I trying to equate a loved one's illnesses with weakness. My wife would hurt me if I did!
'Till Death Do You Part
Especially in my situation, you will be forced to confront the very real possiblity that your loved one's life will be cut short. Here's the secret to coping to that: don't worry about it. When my wife was diagnosed with diabetes, the doctor told her parents that she probably wouldn't live past 26-27. She is almost 29 now, and diabetes is the last thing she worries about. Treatments improve, but the deadlines at work don't. She is actually in about as good of condition as I am, save for the medication, so I seriously doubt that either condition will cost her her life in the next decade at least. It might, but why worry about the inevitable? The idea that I could lose her is always there. However, we have chosen to live life until there is no more life to live. It's cliche, but true.
To sum up, I have compiled a brief list of things I do to cope. I hope this helps others that are in a similar situation
1. Be there for your loved one, but don't crowd him/her
2. Allow some time for yourself, pursue your interests when possible
3. Make sure that you both examine the illness(es), look at the treatments, and decide on a course of action (with your doctor)
4. Keep your chin up when things look bad. Letting yourself hit bottom will make your loved one's condition even worse. Staying as positive as possible will lift their spirits, and hopefully theirs as well.
5. Live life. Again with the cliche, you only get one shot at this, make it a good one.
I would like to point out that I realize that I have not brought anything up regarding "finding God" or other such concepts. I am a Christian myself, and this is something that I do as personal devotion, trusting in God to give me strength. However, I believe that I am not qualified to give spiritual advice other that what is found in this note, so I purposefully did not put it in my "top 5" list. I guess what I am saying is that my faith itself actually supercedes the list. Take that as you will.