Dad’s advice to my cousin & his wife on their wedding day
In February last year I sat on my hospital bed crying. Crying for the physical pain in my body. Crying for the physical limitations that had become a permanent fixture in my life. But it’s not just the physical that affects the chronic life. It’s also the psychological. The social. The future, unknown. I cried for all of those things and for the thousands of other fears that were overtaking me.
One fear that had been hiding in the back of my mind since my body shut down some 5 months before was now at the forefront thanks to the probing questions of my pain specialist. How will I ever meet someone now? How will I ever explain my chronic life to a potential boyfriend? Who will ever love me? Marry me? Have children with me?
It is now 17 months later and as I type I can’t help but can’t glimpses of the beautiful, shiny, new engagement ring sitting on my left hand. I found him. The one.
Relationships are a constant discussion point amongst spoonies (those with an invisible illness). Relationships with family members, friends, colleagues, and even strangers are affected when one person becomes sick. While strong relationships can become stronger, this is not always the case.
Illness can take a toll on relationships and chronic illness can take a toll that lasts a lifetime. In this respect, I am extremely lucky. My family has been there for me from day one. My parents, brother, sister-in-law, cousins, they could not have done enough for me. My family made my illness their illness. They went out of their way to learn about my diagnoses, what makes things worse, what helps and, specifically, what they can do to make my life easier. Friends too have been amazing. The unconditional love and support I have received from friends is something I find hard to put into words. I’ve always known that I was lucky to have the close friendships I do. However, I could never have dreamt of the beautiful way in which those around me so instinctively and selflessly let me know they are there for me.
And so when my people, my beautiful family and friends told me that everything was going to be fine, my chronic life was not going to get in the way of me finding a partner, I knew I was right to be concerned. Because, although they were saying all of the right things, their faces told another story. A story of concern. How can I date? How can I explain my life to another? Who would choose to live this life with me?
As I sat there crying I had no idea that only two months later I would meet him, my one. After chatting online, my now fiancé Googled fibromyalgia before we even made it to our first date. “I needed to know what I was getting myself into”, he later told me. That was it. Our relationship started out like any other, perhaps with a little more openness and reality than is generally recommended at such an early stage. I had obvious trouble walking on the soft sand at the beach on our first date. I took a lot of medication, constantly. I yawned, a lot and fell asleep, often.
Growing up and, even more so as a single 20 something, all I ever wanted was to have a relationship like my parents. Their marriage is based on friendship, they’re mates first and they love each other for all that they are. When my mum could not open her eyes due to the swelling and sores from skin cancer surgery, without thinking my dad would get up at all hours of the night and ever so gently wash her eyes with a cotton bud until she could see. At the time I thought that kind of intimacy took years to develop. But the thing is, when you fall in love, you fall in love with the entire person.
I did not choose the chronic life and before meeting my fiancé I could not have imagined that anyone would. I know he would do anything he could to take away my pain. But as he cannot, there’s no point ignoring it. Instead, he has embraced my chronic life, learnt all that he can about my condition and, specifically, what he can do to make my life easier.
So to all the spoonies out there, it is possible. It is possible to have relationships with family and friends that are supportive, caring and unconditional. It is also possible to find this in a life partner.