The Role Chronic Pain Can Play in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship
In 2015, I thought I met the love of my life. In retrospect, this was an impossibility for a multitude of reasons, but I didn’t know that back then. What I knew at the time was this handsome man who seemed to have his life together came rushing into my life with what seemed, a single mission — to sweep me completely off my feet.
Leading up to our meeting, I’d been working hard on myself. I was taking my antidepressants/anti-anxiety meds, working with my personal trainer, journaling and meditating regularly. I was finding balance, or something reminiscent of that. So, when The Chef and I swiped right to each other on Tinder and our conversation hinted at immediate chemistry, I was eager to meet him in person: so I did just that.
The next morning we met for tea at a local coffee shop near the salon where I was working.
It’s important to understand the deep level of denial I was still living in. Not only were my hips steadily deteriorating, but I was also deep in the proverbial closet (we’ll save that story for another day, but I have a whole other blog about my gay life). The thing is, I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t trust my “knowing,” or my “inner voice,” if you will.
So, when this man came into my life saying all the right things at exactly the right time, I didn’t stand a chance. He spoke so eloquently about not allowing fear to control his life, living in the moment, designing his dream life, entrepreneurship, world travel, you name it — all the things that make me swoon. He presented himself in such a way that exuded confidence, not quite cocky, but not exactly humble either.
Another thing to understand is I am a highly empathetic and empathic person, but I wasn’t keenly aware of that fact back then either. In other words, I was the perfect target for someone like him.
Our relationship moved at warp speed. We moved in together within months and what started off as the dreamiest, envy-of-all-my-friends-and-coworkers relationship quickly started transforming into something else entirely.
So, where does the chronic pain come in?
The easy answer is everywhere.
When I started getting suspicious about his behavior and raising questions, he easily talked his way out of and around things without blinking. He had the most masterful way of turning things back around on me. It was always my insecurity that was the problem, or my attachment to our relationship. He was patronizing in the way he’d act like my concern was endearing.
Much like everything else in my life, I internalized. I have the journal entries to prove it. While I was gaslighting myself about my deteriorating hip joints, he was gaslighting me in our relationship, and I was gaslighting myself right behind him. I just needed to do more yoga, work on my relationship with “attachment,” do more work on myself. He was the superior being, I was the one who needed work. The problem was always me.
And, why wouldn’t it be? After all, if I wasn’t the problem, wouldn’t my body work properly? If I was doing all the right things and taking care of myself correctly, wouldn’t I be totally healthy? He must be right.
During our relationship I eventually opened my own salon and frequently worked three long days (8-12 hours) and one to two short days a week. Coming home from those long days was brutal. I was usually lugging a giant bag of dirty laundry, it was always late and I was always famished, completely exhausted and in need of a shower.
More than all of that, I could barely walk. I used to pull into my parking garage and sit in the car for 20-30 minutes trying to work up the energy to get upstairs. It’s difficult to fully express the level of exhaustion that comes along with working that hard all day, being in that amount of physical pain and coming home to a partner who you don’t fully understand is emotionally abusing you.
I was in survival mode 24/7.
He rarely lifted a finger to help me when I got home. I did the laundry. I cooked my dinner. I cleaned when things needed cleaning. I did everything I needed to do. He sat doing whatever it was he was doing, never stopping to consider how much agony I was in. Never thinking to help. Did it piss me off? Hell yeah it did. But I was exhausted. Too exhausted to fight about it. Too exhausted to do anything but take care of myself and get done what needed getting done.
I knew for quite some time before The Chef and I broke up that something was off. I told him as much. But he got teary eyed and said I was everything he ever wanted and he wanted to work it out. I said OK and stayed. Do you know how much energy it takes to choose to walk away from someone you’ve been building a life with? More than I had to muster at the time. I needed to believe things could be different, so I did.
When things finally imploded, it was he who ended things. It was about two weeks after our initial breakup that I found out about the two years worth of cheating, and lies stacked so high I could no longer separate what was real from what was fake about our time together. It was too much. The lies, the manipulation, the danger he put my already compromised body in.
That might be the worst part. This is someone who lived with me day in and day out for two years. He saw my pain. He knew I was dealing with not only severe endometriosis, but something that was causing intense amounts of hip pain, and he did nothing but further compromise my health with his philandering ways.
Still, I kept myself moving at the speed of light because I was afraid of what would happen if I stopped. I was afraid of what would finally catch up to me. With him, I thought if I kept trying, kept putting in the effort, kept being an ideal partner, I’d be able to save us and in turn, somehow save this life I’d been working tirelessly (yeah right) to build. But that’s the thing, you can’t run forever. Whatever you’re trying to outrun will always catch up to you.
It wasn’t until it finally caught up, plowed me completely over and I allowed the tidal wave to sweep me away that I was finally able to start truly finding myself for the first time in my life. I had many, many blinders to remove before I was ready to look my chronic pain in the face and do something about it.
I don’t blame my chronic pain and disease for finding myself in an abusive relationship. There were many factors at play, but I’d be remiss to say it wasn’t a pertinent piece of the puzzle. Living in that much pain does not allow you the mental or emotional capacity to make your best decisions or be your very best self. When you’re simply trying to survive, you don’t have a lot left over beyond that.
I’m in an array of support groups for various chronic diseases on Facebook (this is what happens when you don’t have a diagnosis yet). I see posts all the time from people talking about the way their romantic partners are handling their illness. Much of the time the posts make me cringe. There are so many women dealing with emotional abuse from their partners and they take it because they think they have to. They think they won’t find someone else. This is a part of chronic illness I that isn’t talked about enough, but I plan to change that.
It’s not easy living with chronic pain, a chronic disease or an invisible illness, but that is never an excuse to accept any kind of abuse from anyone. We deserve more. Being the partner of someone like us isn’t always easy; it’s difficult for partners to know how to show up for us all the time and they are human. But that should never equate to them berating us or making our lives harder.
It’s OK to expect more. It’s OK to ask for what you need and in case no one has told you, your condition is not your fault.
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Getty image by kevron2001