Dating with a Chronic Illness
By Felicity | @fliss260496 | October 23, 2018
Felicity and Adam have been together for five years. During this time, they have come to understand Felicity’s chronic illness has resulted in them forming a deeper connection with one another, despite its challenges. Their relationship has led Felicity to believe that the traditional wedding vow, “through sickness and health I do” – begins before marriage. Here is their story.
In 2013, I started dating my childhood sweetheart after years of being friends. However, our relationship started a couple of months after finding out I wasn’t well. At first my symptoms didn’t affect our relationship because there was no diagnosis yet – so I wasn’t sure why I was unwell; I also thought that it was temporary. In January 2014 when I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). That's when everything changed. I started to realize that my illness was severe enough to change the direction of my life. I soon discovered my numerous debilitating symptoms – muscle weakness, overwhelming fatigue, numb legs, swollen lymph nodes the size of golf balls, body feeling like lead, feeling like passing out when I stand for too long and brain fog. It took me a year to figure out my triggers and discover how to manage these symptoms. And then there's dealing with the invisibility of my illness, the grief, depression and isolation – the aftermath that you aren't told about when you realize that you've been robbed of your life.
For the most part we are a regular couple – we binge watch Netflix, have date nights and outings, go to parties, see friends and family, support one another through financial stress, grief, uni stress, ‘normal people sickness’, pressures of work and any hardship that comes our way. However, these everyday occurrences are coupled with my chronic illness. I’ve been very lucky to have such a loving and understanding boyfriend through my health battles. There was no way to prepare ourselves for the severity of my illness and the impact it would have on our relationship over the years, but we’ve adapted. Whilst I look after myself as we don’t live together yet – my boyfriend is my secondary caretaker.
During a flare, our relationship becomes about him walking slowing with me, unconsciously putting his hand behind my back when we walk upstairs, resting with me, explaining my absences and my illness to those who don't understand. It's about him gently reminding me not to overdo it or telling me “that’s enough now”. On a truly awful day, it’s the simplicity of him understanding I appreciate the silence, the hair strokes, getting my food and water, helping me with chores, driving me places, reading to me and helping me get dressed. It's about the numerous times he’s held me while I've cried to him wishing I didn't have the illness. It’s him happily watching the same TV shows repeatedly because they’re an instant mood booster. It’s him saying he’s proud of me because I have used my experiences to become an advocate. It’s happily leaving places early when I cannot function anymore, it’s him carrying my shopping bags because my arms give out easily. It’s his constant care and attention for me that makes living that day easier. It’s him telling me to go to bed when I’m overtired and cranky. It’s also about the things I do when he’s not with me. It’s motivating myself to get out of bed by thinking of our future we want to build together. It’s making sure I complete my exercise physiology program so I’m well enough one day to dance at our wedding without flaring. It’s slowly advocating his perspective of my illness so other caretakers understand they’re not alone. It’s him being proud of me because I get up and fight every day. It’s knowing not every day is bad.
But dating when you’re chronically ill isn’t without its flaws. It’s also about the fights due to feeling left out and depressed when he goes out partying without me. It's about the guilt trip I give him when he leaves me behind; it's about pushing aside the jealousy that comes from him being happy and doing things an abled bodied person can do. It's about wishing he was bedridden just for once to understand the isolation and symptoms. It’s about enforcing strategies, so the depression doesn’t make me hit rock bottom. It’s about working hard to not let my anger about my limitations become directed at him. It's about him wishing I was well enough to party, it's about him being sad I’m not always beside him. It’s about him getting mad when someone tries to tell him that they have the same illness because they get “tired too." It’s about watching the helplessness in his eyes because he can’t do anything to ease my symptoms. It’s about him wishing he could take my illness away because I don’t deserve it. It’s constantly planning around your illness and trying to compromise or find alternatives. It's that dreadful feeling that maybe he’ll leave me for someone healthy or that I’m holding him back. It’s having intimate moments regularly interrupted by pain, muscle weakness and fatigue. It's not always about saying “thank-you for looking after me tonight” or “thank-you for coming out for a couple of hours." It's taking your routine for granted. The flaws aren’t pretty, but no relationship chronically ill or not, are without its ups and downs. Without these flaws, he and I wouldn’t have worked hard to become a stronger team. We have learnt to understand one another, communicate better and be patient with one another. Overall, we haven’t given up on our relationship, consequently strengthening our love and commitment for one another. Lately we’ve been discussing our future and our plans to get married. I know marriage isn’t easy, but if we’re already adjusting to my illness and getting through its grievances – I know we can battle anything.
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