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What Chronic Illness Has Taught Me About Love

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Often when someone becomes chronically ill, one hears stories about people disappearing, not understanding or being cruel. Although that has been the case in some of my relationships, it is not the case with all of my relationships. One particular relationship has taught me more about what love looks like when it endures challenges.

couple holding hands after getting engaged
Engagement photo taken by Jenny Ballou.

I met my husband when I was just about to graduate with a Master’s degree in occupational therapy. My adult life was just beginning. We fell in love, moved to New York City and were pursuing our dreams. Finally, all of my hard work was paying off. I never thought I was going to get sick. It started with severe pain and insomnia, and quickly spread to muscle weakness and fatigue. Eventually, there wasn’t a day without severe symptoms, and I was no longer able to work. My then boyfriend, who would later become my husband, was so hopeful. He thought that if you get sick, then you go to the doctor and you get better. He had never seen chronic illness before. Although I appreciated his positive outlook, I tried to explain to him the reality that fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome could last forever, hence the word chronic.

I knew how much my life was going to change – how the picture of us was never going to be quite the same. I explained to him what it was going to be like. Potentially, we would live on a one person income, we wouldn’t be able to do beloved activities as often and we couldn’t have children as I was too sick to care for a child. There was a possibility that I could get better, worse or stay the same. It was a gamble. I told him I was a risk he didn’t have to take. That things had changed, and neither of us were responsible for my illnesses. I explained I wouldn’t be hurt or angry if he wanted a different life. In fact, I pushed him to leave me and live the life I had imagined for him. I never wanted to trap him or for him to feel resentful towards me.

couple standing on a bridge kissing after getting engaged
Astoria Park engagement photo taken by Jenny Ballou.

After some thought with his eyes wide open, he decided to stay with me. He told me he loved me and he couldn’t picture his life without me. We got engaged a few months later, and have now been married for two years. We had to move back to Buffalo, New York to be closer to family for support. We are living in a small home and on a one person income. We rarely go out with friends and do not travel. So much has changed, so quickly. He is so young, 31 years old, and I’ve had to watch him make sacrifices and accommodations for my illnesses. I’ve watched how financial burdens have affected him. It breaks my heart to see how my illnesses have impacted his life.

Sometimes I still ask him, “Why are you still with me?” He replies, “Because I wouldn’t want to go through the struggles of life with anyone else.” It’s then that he reminds me that no one has it perfect. Any person or relationship will have their challenges, but it makes it a little easier and sweeter to go through life with someone who truly loves me and knows me. It is hard to believe that someone loves me that much. I have never known someone to be so loving, giving, patient and understanding.

man carrying his fiance on his back
Engagement photo taken by Jenny Ballou.

Now when I’m up all night sweating and crying in severe pain, am too weak to get a glass of water or unable to walk, I thank God for someone who isn’t judging me or angry with me. I’m so grateful for the kindnesses I have been shown, even if only by one person. If it weren’t for my illness, my husband would not have the opportunity to show me what love looks like in the face of serious challenges. My illnesses are awful and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, but I am aware of how blessed I am to know this kind of love.

Originally published: March 27, 2018
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