Please Don't Love Me 'in Spite of' My Illness
Please don’t love me in spite of my illness.
Between sick-lit, well-meaning friends and family, I have been told since my early years that I will find someone who loves me “even though I am sick.”
Even though I am sick and I will never fully get better. Even though I am sick and it is possible I will only get worse.
I wish I could go back to my pre-teen years. The years when I was just diagnosed and trying to process being sick alongside going through puberty and dating. I would go back and tell the younger version of myself that I am not less of a person for being sick.
I would tell young me that we don’t owe anyone anything – that we don’t need to be a martyr in our relationships because we don’t feel like we’re deserving of love. We are. Everyone deserves to be loved.
I would do what I could to convince that gawky girl, who didn’t understand why she required 12+ hours of sleep a day, that she isn’t a burden. I would go back to stop myself from dating boys who told me I was lazy and worthless.
“You are not your body,” I would say. “There are so many more things that make up the incredible creation that is you than this physical form.”
Call it a soul. Call it consciousness. Call it light.
Don’t love me in spite of my illness.
“In spite of” makes me feel less than – less than a woman, less than whole, less than enough.
“In spite of” sets a scale on the table where we both are weighed by the annoyances and grievances and deal-breakers of the other and my side is already tipping lower than yours.
With the disadvantage of illness, I’d have to work to make sure my good qualities, achievements and daily behavior compensate for an aspect of my person – that is entirely out of my control – enough that I become worthy of your love.
Will my fainting spells outweigh the fact that you chew your fingernails when you’re nervous?
Will all of my doctor visits weigh more on the relationship than your parents visiting?
Am I too much?
Don’t you dare love me in spite of my illness!
Love me for my mind, even when it’s foggy. Love me for my heart, even when my illness makes it beat too fast. Love me for my words, even when I can’t remember the one I meant.
I think people with chronic illness – as well as mental illness, who are disabled, etc. – are continuously fed tales in the media and in daily micro-aggressions about how we are a drain: on society, on the health care system and in our families.
We pretend to be healthier than we are because we run the risk of appearing too sick or not sick enough to present ourselves the way we do in public. We smile and say things are fine even when they are so obviously not fine. It is too easy for us to isolate ourselves from those who love us the most because we do not want to be the burden we are repeatedly told we are by society.
It took me years to realize why being told “I will be loved one day, in spite of my illness,” normally said by someone who truly meant well and whom I love, hurt so much.
It hurts because it tells me they do not see me as a whole person. They see me marred by disease and ultimately unworthy of the love I could/would be receiving if not for my illness. Any potential partner is then automatically relegated to “martyr” status for having the courage and strength to love me despite that giant fluorescent sign screaming “sick person” over my head.
So for all you well-meaning family members and friends who have said this to me: I still love you in spite of your incredible insensitivity to what amounts to just one aspect of who I am.
There is an English poet, David Whyte, who illustrates a concept he calls “the arrogance of belonging,” which Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert discusses at length in a section of her nonfiction guide to creative living, “Magic Lessons.” I wanted to end this article with a quote from David Whyte that Liz referenced because hearing her talk about the arrogance of belonging switched a light on in me. I honestly believe everyone is worthy of love, and human connection and compassion should be the driving force of all of our lives. It is important we also extend that compassion to ourselves.
At the panel I was in the audience for, Liz posed a question along these lines to us, “Who do you think you are, in all of the history of humanity, that you feel that you deserve to suffer alone, separate from the rest of us, and are unworthy of being loved? The fear of not belonging is intrinsically human.”
We belong in this world. We are worthy of love that is not conditional on our health. We are already loved.
“…It’s interesting to think that no matter how far you are from yourself, no matter how exiled you feel from your contribution to the rest of the world or to society – that, as a human being, all you have to do is enumerate exactly the way you don’t feel at home in the world – to say exactly how you don’t belong – and the moment you’ve uttered the exact dimensionality of your exile, you’re already taking the path back to the way, back to the place you should be. You’re already on your way home.” – David Whyte
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Thinkstock photo via jacoblund.