No couple is immune to the hard work that goes into their relationship. Each couple has their own unique obstacles that they have to overcome, their own speed bumps to get over and their own challenges. Each relationship is unique. Relationships that involve someone with a medical condition such as an invisible/chronic illness, present a whole new category of challenges and obstacles.
Since I was about 12 years old I’ve battle migraines.Then a couple of years ago my chronic daily headaches developed. Two years ago I developed an anaphylactic food allergy. In the last few months I’ve been diagnosed with hypermobility ehlers-danlos and mild postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. You can probably assume that I don’t lead the same type of lifestyle that most normal “healthy” young adults do. These health issues present a number of challenges that would take up a whole page to list them out. But one that other people may not think about is the challenge of dating as someone with a chronic illness and/or condition.
It wasn’t often that I opened myself up to someone. And there was always an underlying reason that I often tried to downplay–which was I didn’t want to try to explain my headaches to someone else. It’s a challenge in itself to get someone to even remotely understand what I feel like every day. Which makes sense–you can’t really understand someone else’s physical pain–but it is such an overwhelming and anxiety inducing thought just thinking about explaining it to someone else and trying to help them make sense of it. So I just avoided it.
What I’ve found, though, is that with the right person it may still be difficult to explain and express to them how you feel with your chronic illness, but it will become much easier over time and the burden of having to explain over and over will be lifted.
I have been lucky enough to be in a relationship with someone who, even though he may not be able to understand my daily physical pain, tries his hardest to do so and is there for me every step of the way. Dating as someone with a chronic illness means you look for someone who will stick by you when you’re at your worst. He has laid beside me when my migraines have been so awful that it hurt to talk and think. He has rubbed my back while I lay curled in my bed. He’s rushed me to the ER and rushed himself to the ER when I found myself there without him. He’s held my hand through countless IV’s and needles. But not only has he seen me at my worst physically, he’s seen me at my worst emotionally. He’s been by my side when the unpredictable blues hit and I lay fetal position in my bed crying due to frustration, pain, anxiety and disappointment.
You can imagine that being seen in such states can make you feel incredibly vulnerable. I feel fragile, broken and completely exposed. It took me a while to show that part of myself to him, but even now, I have a hard time expressing everything that I’m feeling. It’s hard to be as vulnerable as that and not feel guilty about it. Showing that much vulnerability can make your partner sad because they see with their eyes how much you are hurting. It’s not fun for them either. Which is why I try my best to hide it sometimes, even when I know I shouldn’t.
Even though i’m the one who is in constant physical pain, it takes a toll on him as well. It takes a toll on our relationship at times.
Once or twice the words “go on a break” have been tossed around before and we have found ourselves facing crossroads of our relationship. It’s no surprise that there is a certain amount pressure put on a person who is dating someone with a chronic illness to be stronger, more reliable and more flexible than a person who is dating someone “normal.” I’ve been stubborn and told him he should date someone normal because it would relieve him of this unnecessary and burdening pressure and frustration that he inevitably faces by dating me. I have become short and impatient because I was telling myself that he should be with someone easier and healthier, which results in him growing fearful and frustrated as well.
By living a life with chronic illness, I’ve gained a lot of insight I never expected to. One major thing that I’ve learned about being in relationship as a person with a chronic illness, is that we must give back. Love is a two way street. Our partners constantly give and give and give to help us out when we are feeling at our worst. And it can be easy to let it slip our minds, especially when we aren’t feeling well, that they are putting out so much effort to make us feel better. We end up taking and taking and not giving anything back in return.
We have to be mindful and remember to give back. Be outwardly and openly thankful. Be verbal about it but also show it through actions and do something small (or grand) every once in a while to show your partner just how grateful you are. Surprise them with thoughtful gifts, write them notes, tell them how much you love them every day, take part in their interests, cook for them when you’re feeling well, help them in ways they may not feel comfortable asking for just as they do for you.
There are numerous challenges that we face when we live with a chronic illness. Being a part of a relationship is one of those challenges that bring about many challenges of its own. But if you can make it through the hardships that chronic illness throws your way, you can make it through any of the other relationship speed bumps you may come across.