To the Person I Love: Thank You for Helping Me Find Myself After Illness
Thank you for coming into my life when you did. Thank you for finding me again. Thank you for loving me.
This may seem like a pretty obvious request to have for a partner, to love you for you. I agree. But when you live with many debilitating illnesses, you learn to put up your guard and slightly shelter who you are because the truth is that a lot of people just don’t understand you or your life. You learn to disguise your limp, hide the amount of medication or aids that are literally holding your body together, cover the dark circles under your eyes from sleepless nights and constant, unrelenting fatigue and pray that nobody notices when you trip or go wobbly. You learn to distance yourself from people because you think they’ll never understand, particularly if you’ve had a bad experience in the past. You protect yourself so much from the world around you and convince yourself that nobody will ever truly get you.
I know that’s exactly what I did. I got hurt badly by people who had no intentions of understanding and so I shut myself off. At the time we met I was also in what I now see was an unhealthy relationship and that really didn’t help. But you gave me the confidence to get out, before it was too late.
If I’m completely honest though, I lost who I was before then. I felt like a ghost of the “old me” and I got pretty badly depressed. I was no longer the sporty, outgoing person I once was. I was stuck in a wheelchair, unable to sometimes take care of the most basic personal care, and I was angry at the world and everyone in it.
Then I met one of those guys who you think only exists in the movies. I met you. From the word go I felt comfortable in your presence, a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt able to talk about some of the things I really struggle with. I felt safe to give you glimpses of the reality of how I have to live my life. I was still on my guard for a while, not fully revealing the extent of how tough things can sometimes get, but each time I showed you a little more and fully expected you to run, you wanted to see me. To be involved in more. You didn’t want to stop until the walls fully came down. You began to get me thinking I had finally been seen for more than my disability. You started to show me I was being loved.
I started to feel like myself again. You showered me with compliments and I started to get my confidence back. I, however, did what a lot of people with chronic illnesses do and pushed my body way too far because I wanted to seem “normal.” There was no way my body could keep up with that for long. I had to rather quickly go back to having rest days and the physio tape came back out. We began having to stop more and more for food/water breaks and I totally expected you to get fed up and leave me. But you didn’t. You understood. No, in fact, it was more than that. You practically begged me to let you help me. Fun days turned into last minute duvet days and what many would see as the perfect opportunity for romantic massages, you saw as opportunities to rub my legs or my back to try and relieve some of the pain. And yes, that does still make me feel like a burden a lot of the time, but you always have a way of making it OK and making every day fun, no matter the situation.
You have made me feel so loved, so safe and so supported. You have made me laugh ’til I pop a rib, you’ve wiped my tears as I’ve sobbed in despair and yet, through everything, you have always made me feel like everyone else and like everything I go through is OK. You have made me feel like I can get through anything, just because you are by my side.
Slowly but surely you have found me. You haven’t found the old me, but instead you have found a person I love being. You enabled me to see that people like me, people with disabilities, don’t have to lose ourselves when we get sick – we just have to adapt a bit more to the world around us and how we live our lives. You opened my eyes to the possibility of having a family of my own one day. You have also shown me that it is possible to be truly loved; wheelchair or no wheelchair, medication or no medication, doctors or no doctors – love is love!
I do not need to settle just because I live with multiple chronic illnesses. I do not have to just be tolerated or made to feel guilty because of the way I live my life. I deserve to be loved and to be happy.
For all this and so, so much more. Thank you.
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Thinkstock photo via Benjavisa.