I’m in my 20s — the time that every sitcom highlights as the peak time to make new
friends, to date and to fall in and out of love. I keep reading articles telling me how my 20s are the time to explore, travel and figure out what I want to do with my life. They say it’s a time make mistakes, meet new people, listen to my whims and do all the things I’d like to do before I worry about things like commitment, mortgages and promotions. It’s supposed to be a simultaneously exciting and terrifying time in my life.
They got the terrifying part right anyway.
My health has been gradually deteriorating for more than two years now. I’ve been out of work for over one year. Nights out aren’t an option for me, socializing is difficult when you have a bedtime of 9:30 p.m. and more and more I feel disconnected from “normal” people my age.
My friends have been great about making sure I can still join in. Thankfully, my condition coincided with a surge in the popularity of coffee shops and brunch, but meeting new people is a lot trickier. I’ve always been happy being single, but now I feel like it’s not a choice I’ve made — it’s that dating no longer seems like an option.
Whenever I think about it, my thoughts tend to go something like this:
1. How do you meet people when you can’t leave the house?
Seriously. People say that you need to “put yourself out there,” but when you spend a large proportion of your day inside, how do you meet new people? There isn’t exactly a lot of eligible bachelors strolling past my couch. I know what you’ll say next …
2. Have you tried online dating?
I won’t lie to you — Tinder scares me. I’ve always liked getting to know people organically — in real life. I get that online dating works for a lot of people. I know a few happy couples who met online, and I do think it’s a great invention. It’s just that I honestly think I’m more awkward online than I am in person. I’ve considered giving it a go on several occasions, even downloading the app and setting up a profile. Then I think about how anyone I matched with would ask me questions about myself. You know, to get to know me. And a whole lot of other concerns flare up …
3. How/When do I tell them that I’m sick?
Let’s face it, “What do you do?” is definitely going to crop up in the top three “tell me about yourself” questions. Do I just say that I’m not working at the moment without explaining why? Or do I explain? My illness is such a large part of my life — it’s not something I can hide or something I should hide. But dropping it into a conversation can be extremely awkward. I’m a private person, and I know this sounds strange to say while sharing very personal articles about my illness on this website. But it’s very different to write an article for people who may be going through similar difficulties on a website devoted to those issues than it is to open up and explain it to someone that I’ve just met, because …
4. What if they reject me because of my illness?
If your 20s are a time to be adventurous, spontaneous and fun, nothing is going to burst the bubble of potential light-hearted romance like “I have multiple invisible illnesses and mental health issues.” I honestly can’t say I would blame someone for deciding it’s too much for them. It’s a bit too much for me, only I don’t have the luxury of opting out.
5. If the illness doesn’t scare them off, what can I actually do on a date?
I have limited energy levels, and I can only leave the house for a few hours at a time each day. This means that my best time of day is between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. After that, my energy levels start to drop. Socializing can be very difficult for me in the evenings because I’m often extremely drained. I’m also on a strict nutrition plan, and it’s almost impossible for me to eat out in restaurants. I can’t drink (and I live in a country where “going for a drink” is a staple date option). Basically, I can meet people for coffee, (just one cup, before 2 p.m., and I’m not allowed caffeine after then) a matinee showing at the cinema or a walk (if my energy levels are good that day). There is also a significant chance that I will flare or crash and have to cancel on them at short notice. You would have to be an extremely patient person to put up with all that.
My anxiety does mean that I often escalate problems in my head, linking one concern to another in an ever-increasing list of worries. However, this is one topic that I feel validated in being troubled over. I try to be optimistic about my attitude to my illness in general, but these issues just feel so insurmountable.
If I am in a relationship, I want it to be as equals. At the moment, I feel as though I take a lot more than I can give. When you have chronic illnesses, they become the linchpin in your decision-making. Your daily activities revolve around them. It’s something I’ve accepted for myself, but I feel extremely guilty when it impacts other people.
I know there are wonderful people out there who wouldn’t care about my health issues. The people in my life now don’t, but I’m also aware they knew me before. It’s new people, people who might think of me as “the sick girl” that I’m afraid of. That’s not how I want to be seen. I know I have plenty to offer and my illness doesn’t define who I am, but I also understand it might be hard for some people to see past it.
I know that everyone, healthy or not, has moments where they’re afraid — of being lonely, of being rejected. As I try to learn how to navigate my life with chronic illness, there are many things I have to learn how to deal with. This is just one on a list of issues I have to address. I’m determined not to let this condition affect my life or to prevent me from doing anything I would like to do. I’m still learning how to accomplish that.
I like to think that the right things come into your life at the right time. I also think I need to come to terms with everything going on with my life before I include another person in it. I hope one day I’ll be brave enough to give it a go, but for now it seems like something very much out of reach.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Lead photo by Thinkstock Images