In his book, Beyond Chaos: One Man’s Journey Alongside His Chronically Ill Wife, author Gregg Piburn tells the story of how his wife’s struggle with Fibromyalgia and other health problems changed not only her life, but their life together as well. He tells how he battled his feelings of anger, frustration, and guilt, to ultimately re-evaluate his expectations and priorities.
The book is written with humor, great insight, and heartwarming compassion. It contains an abundance of wisdom that will help both CFS/FMS sufferers and their loved ones cope with the impact of chronic illness on their lives.
I spoke with Gregg Piburn about the book and about how chronic illness affects relationships with those we love.
Q: What prompted you to write the book Beyond Chaos?
Gregg: During the early stages of Sherrie’s illness, I felt like a pressure cooker that was turned on with all the holes plugged. I needed an outlet to express my thoughts and feelings and started writing a journal. Later, I realized many of my journal thoughts could be developed to form the foundation of a book to help other individuals, couples, and families struggling directly or indirectly with chronic illness. I believed this community of potential readers would also find it interesting to hear a male voice explaining (from the head and heart) a real family’s real struggle.
Q: Why do you call chronic illness “The Intruder”?
Gregg: Like an intruder, chronic illness sneaks into your house unexpectedly and robs valuable items from everyone who lives there. I find value in personifying the illness because it creates an impetus to fight back. We go to war against The Intruder. However, we fight wars on several fronts. My book focuses on how to fight chronic illness on the emotional and relational fronts.
Q: Why do you think so many marriages/relationships fail when one partner has a chronic illness?
Gregg: I’m sure there are many reasons. But going back to the war analogy, I think many couples put almost all their focus on healing the body. Meanwhile, they leave the emotional and relational fronts undefended against The Intruder. Society doesn’t help. It tells the healthy partner to put on a happy-face mask, to be the ultimate positive thinker. Taken to the extreme, this approach prevents a couple from connecting at a deeper level. In fact, it can form a wedge that drives people apart. It can be uncomfortable or downright scary to take off the mask, but real growth in any relationship occurs when true thoughts and feelings get expressed during tough times.
Q: How do you think coping with a life change such as illness can actually enhance and deepen a couple’s relationship?
Gregg: American society puts extreme value on image. How you look, what’s your job title, who you know. In many ways life becomes a charade and the essence of who you are stays hidden from loved ones and yourself. When something as significant as The Intruder enters your home, it forces your hand. If you choose to keep playing charades, you might have to leave the relationship because the image of health and happiness is shattered. The other route demands the courage to change, to begin to honestly reveal who you really are and what you really think and feel. If both partners open up while in the foxhole of the war against The Intruder, they can’t help but become tighter as a couple.
Q: What is the most important thing that sufferers of chronic illness can do to improve and maintain their relationships with loved ones?
Gregg: Understand that chronic illness impacts the person’s “healthy” loved ones as well. I know Sherrie’s experience with The Intruder has been much tougher than mine. But having Sherrie realize it was tough on the rest of us, too, helped us band together against a common enemy, The Intruder. We became allies rather than competitors.
Q: What is the most important thing that the “healthy” partner can do to support the person who is ill?
Gregg: Don’t become a stoical martyr, which many of your friends and neighbors will expect from you. It’s just another version of charades and will cause you to become bitter and angry (while often sporting a plastic smile on your face). When The Intruder sees the “healthy” partner become a martyr, he knows victory is secure on the emotional and relational fronts.
Q: What does your wife Sherrie think about the book?
Gregg: The book allows readers to peer into our lives. That was difficult for Sherrie and me. But the book also shows the stages of growth we went through as we struggled with chronic illness. She enjoys seeing that growth captured on paper and also appreciates hearing how the book has helped other couples around the country. She’s prejudiced, but Sherrie thinks Beyond Chaos is a good read that helps others understand they are not alone and there is hope.
Gregg Piburn is a published author, magazine columnist and management consultant who Colorado. A former award-winning journalist, Gregg brings his honest message alive with personal stories and vivid analogies and metaphors. Gregg and his wife, Sherrie, were married in 1973 and have 3 children. They have given presentations around the county and through their company, True Companions, they help other couples impacted by long-term illness.