To the Partners of Those With Chronic Illness: I See You, and I Appreciate You
In the early days of our relationship, when my boyfriend and I used to argue (and we used to argue a lot), I’d often fall down. Flat out flop unconscious. I’d pass out and he’d have to rouse me. It was in equal parts humiliating and frustrating. I didn’t want to do it – it was out of my control. It was like my body would literally shut down at the first sign of stress.
This didn’t happen all the time of course, just occasionally, and he’d naturally be panicked and worried (and confused). Perhaps suspicious even – that I was somehow doing it on purpose, faking it. I wasn’t. But I entirely understand why he might think I was. It was “convenient” – a distraction from the heat of an argument. Only I’d black out, so the argument was 500 miles from my mind when I came round.
The funny thing about all of this is I’m so stubborn and defensive during arguments that fainting in the midst of it is the absolute last thing I’d want to do. As I’m sure you can appreciate, it’s hard to win an argument when you are unconscious. Nowadays I’m older and (hopefully) wiser, and I try my utmost to discuss rather than destroy when talking with the man I love. I try not to take things personally or immaturely assume that one cross word is going to be the end of us. I try not to “win” in a game where we should be equals. Thankfully I also no longer faint when we do get into a disagreement.
This fainting was a direct and physical reaction to stress. My body couldn’t cope with the extremes and would quite literally shut down. I didn’t know I had Crohn’s disease back then; I just knew the way my body was reacting was far from normal.
Knowing that stress is such a massive source of my physical symptoms has allowed me to attempt to manage it. Of course that’s much easier said than done. But in amongst this assortment of symptoms and barrage of knowledge about an ever-changing condition, where does the other half of me fit in? The man who has to watch as I collapse in front of him, when I throw up after he’s cooked for me, when I writhe in pain in bed next to him?
I feel a great deal of guilt in being “sick” and in love with him. I’m too selfish to leave him, and he doesn’t want me to leave him of course, which is a great relief to both me and our mortgage provider. But due to one of our twosome being in a state of permanent illness, he is the one who has to see the person he loves in pain. He is the one who feels helpless and frustrated for me. He is the one who has to spend nights alone when I retire to bed ill yet again. He is the one. I love him.
And I love all the partners of women and men with chronic illness for their unyielding patience and compassion. It must be hard to maintain your own personality when everyone around you asks, “How is she/he?” before “How are you?” It must be stifling when huge chunks of your conversations are about someone else. So it’s important we remind the people we love they are appreciated. It might be hard for us to tell you that when we are consumed by pain or our own misfortune, but we feel it.
It’s easy to be selfish when you are thinking about your illness 99 percent of the day. I get sad and exasperated and don’t want to feel the way I do. But I am in there waiting for you to pull me out of the doldrums, and remind me I am still more than an illness. I owe you the same courtesy; so please know I appreciate you and everything you do, and often everything you don’t do: every time you don’t roll your eyes when I complain for the 50th time in an hour, when you don’t have a tantrum when we have to cancel a night out, when you don’t show your frustration when you’ve cooked for me and I can’t eat it.
I see it all. I see you, and I love you.
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Thinkstock photo via nd3000.