Love & Chronic Illness
Last updated: February 2019
Living with a chronic illness is hard. I realize what an understatement that must seem, but many people will never come to that realization. The reality of living with chronic illness sometimes seems like you're the main character in a science fiction fantasy novel, with one premise; you're the cursed character.
I've intentionally put off relationships because I know that the maturity level in some of the people I've dated would never be able to put up with the level of responsibility they would face in taking on aspects of being the significant other to a partner living with illness. You see, many people, single, dating, married or separated, don't know what the true meaning of "significant" when we refer to relationships. Many people don't understand what it truly means to have a "better half" to help you balance things when things are at the absolutely worst when it comes to health.
It's physically exhausting, it's heart-breaking & it can suck all of the happy from you.
Before falling in love with someone your "recipe for love" requires two ingredients - you NEED to love yourself first & you NEED to be committed to your health, your self-care and your safety. Don't ever think self-care is selfish; when it comes to relationships, commitment means knowing what you want. If you feel incomplete, your partner will read that
In order to find yourself, find something in your day that you commit to doing for yourself that makes you happy. Take a walk to the mailbox, extend your walk by half a block every night & get fresh air. Being cooped in in a house resting while sick, or exhausted from work - you need to completely disconnect from your "regular" life and toss it all aside. Learn to paint, draw or find an artsy outlet that let's you put your mind on hold and your spirit to work. Challenge yourself. If you can, go for a boat ride and remind yourself of the beautiful creatures all around us. Sit back in a lawn chair at night and listen to the crickets chirp and meditate. Once or twice a day, do something by yourself, for yourself, no matter how small, as a reminder of how far you've come.
It takes a very special person to accept the things patients may be surrounded by at times. I'm not saying every significant other should be extremely accepting of the fact that if you have complications of a chronic illness and you find yourself in the hospital often, that it will be easy 100% of the time. But it definitely hurts when they aren't.
Caregivers who witness things that their loved one goes through (especially that you may not remember maybe due to sedation, PTSD, etc.), are affected just as much on a very different level. This can change them and we need to acknowledge that. It can be terrifying and it can be a reminder just how close to death a loved one can come, but it can also prove how strong your partner is. Whether you've lived your whole life with IBD or you are newly diagnosed, illness has the potential to change the course of relationships. A strong partner, no matter what the circumstances, makes for a strong relationship.
I get it - it's very hard to love yourself when you don't recognize yourself in the mirror.
Something I find useful is putting 2-3 quotes of finding acceptance throughout my house. I have one in my mirror about progress and how to move forward. I have one near every mirror to remind myself that who I am on the outside, does not necessarily define who I am on the inside. And not until then, do I begin (again) to realize my self-worth, my self-love and what I need to do moving forward to provide myself self-care. Falling in love with yourself and becoming a fighter doesn't come overnight and it may not come in your first few years dealing with the worst of your symptoms. Rome wasn't built in a day & acceptance certainly doesn't come overnight when dealing with a serious illness. Remember that for every crack you endure, it makes you that much stronger.
Diamonds are made by pressure - never forget that. You are a diamond.
Once you've fallen in love with who YOU are, you can then begin to search for someone who will be by your side; not in front of you, nor behind you - but someone who will stand with you in the pouring rain, sit with you in the hospital at 3am or stand next to you on your wedding day and take that vow of "in sickness and in health" very literally. I am a big believer that the support you truly want to surround yourself with, will always stay by your side in an uphill fight, not in front of you to protect you, or behind you to catch you when you fall - beside you. Fighting with you, facing problems head-on with you.
But first you must love yourself. Then, and only then, can you begin to let someone else in to experience the type of love you've always wanted. So before you sign up for that online dating website, ask yourself "How much do I love myself?" first.
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