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When Chronic Illness Gave Me Unexpected Insight Into My Relationship

Most couples in their 20s worry about what restaurant they are going to choose for dinner, which movie to go see, and where to plan their next vacation. They may take this time to travel and have fun, learning along the way about the other person’s most intriguing qualities or what makes them tick. It’s a time of fearlessness, taking the plunge together to see if you could really see yourself spending the rest of your lives together.

My boyfriend and I are in our 20s, but we are certainly not “most couples.” When I was diagnosed with chronic illness, specifically autoimmune disease, I expected myself to be the only person who became affected by it. We are the ones who have the symptoms, take the medications, are treated by the doctors, and can no longer do what we used to love, right? We rely on ourselves to get up and face the day, or so I thought.

On the days I am so fatigued and want nothing other than to stay in bed all day, it’s my boyfriend, Matt, who actually motivates me and physically helps me get out of bed. It’s he who helps me stop crying almost daily when I can’t seem to find a breath in between my moments of sobbing from my depression.

Not enough people are aware that I, suffering from this chronic illness, wouldn’t be able to get by without my “caretakers,” who become this not by default, but because they truly feel compelled to see their loved one get through the most trying of times. Before getting sick, I was incredibly independent in many aspects. I was not one to ever ask for help, even if I had felt I had hit rock bottom; I felt asking for help made me a weak individual, but coping with this foreign lifestyle has helped me to see that it does not. Asking someone for help makes you human; there comes a time when we all need someone to lean on.

In speaking honestly, I owe my life to my significant other. I’m not sure I’d still be here today without him because I believe my depression would have engulfed any ounce of happiness that I had left by now. I developed depression as a symptom of my autoimmune diseases. The changes in my life of not being able to do what I used to, of not physically being able to attend outings anymore, of feeling lonely and like no one understands what I may be coping with… they all surmount to this flood of depressive feelings.

The worst part about it is that I absolutely cannot help it; there’s nothing anyone around me can do to alter the chemicals in my brain to take me back to my former, happy self. The only thing others can do is find ways to turn my worst moments into little bits of happiness, and my boyfriend has found a way to do that by trial and error. He has not once become scared of the new person that I am or thrown his hands up and told me he can’t deal with this. The people who have stepped up and taken on this role selflessly are amazing, empathic individuals, and not enough gratitude is expressed to them.

woman and man wearing glasses and a hooded sweatshirt
Jamie and her boyfriend.

I tell him almost daily that I am forever grateful to have him in my life, and I never take anything that he does for me for granted. The positive element of my chronic illness is that it has shown me how my significant other would react in the most trying of times come the future. It’s been a humongous eye-opener to see that our entire relationship has been changed and affected by my illnesses, but we have become closer and stronger as a couple because of it.

We take life one day at a time now, and that’s OK with us, as long as we’re in it together. Appreciate those in your life who have stepped up, no matter who it is, to help you battle and cope with your health issues. While chronic illness has torn my life up, at least I can take away an amazing insight into my relationship from it.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s a dating story related to your disability and/or disease that made you laugh, roll your eyes, cry or was otherwise unforgettable? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.