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When 'in Sickness and in Health' Became More Than Just Words

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My 30th birthday wasn’t exactly the happiest birthday I’ve ever had. Our daughter was only a few months old and I was recovering from discectomy surgery that I’d had to repair the ruptured disc I’d suffered in pregnancy. I was still experiencing significant pain though, so I was awaiting results of an MRI to determine if another surgery could resolve my residual pain, plus I was days off having parathyroidectomy surgery to cure my recently diagnosed hyperparathyroidism. To say it was a stressful time was an understatement, and it was hard to feel excited about turning 30.

My husband, Shem, was determined to make my day wonderful despite the situation, and as my birthday present he gave me a panoramic canvas print of one of our wedding pictures. It was my favorite of all our wedding pictures, showing the city and the bridge we got engaged on in the background, and the dramatic sky that broke into a storm minutes after the photo was taken. We hung it proudly above our staircase, directly opposite our lounge room – that very day – and it certainly was the highlight of my birthday.

Five days after Shem gave me that print I was told that my back and nerve pain was permanent, and nothing could be done to resolve it.

The days and weeks after that were some of the worst of my life. I can’t find the words to describe the emotions that I felt, the depths of despair that I reached, and honestly, I don’t think I ever will. So many nights I lay awake, crying silently until my pillow was soaked wet. Eventually the crying escalates to sobbing, and I would go and sit on the couch so I wouldn’t wake Shem or the baby.

I would sit there on the couch crying, looking at that beautiful photo. The photo that had represented the joy of our wedding day, the happiness that Shem and I had found in each other and the unknown future that we were excited to explore together. That photo started to haunt me.

I looked at that girl and I didn’t recognize her anymore. She felt like someone I used to know, or a version of me that was foggy, like a vague memory of a dream that was quickly fading. I looked at her and felt jealous of her happiness, her naïvety and the future that she had, compared to the future that lay before me – in pain; forever. I felt angry that she hadn’t lived more, travelled more, enjoyed her health and youth more. I felt sad that I would never be her again.

I hated nights. I couldn’t distract myself from the despair that swallowed me up during the nights like I could in the day. I studied that photo, night after night. I could see how much they loved each other, how much he loved that girl – the old me. Could he still love the “damaged” version of me? The “broken” girl – physically and mentally? If I couldn’t accept her or love her, how could he?

I was fearful that our relationship wouldn’t survive this massive trial. I was so scared that my depression and anger were twisting me into a sad and bitter version of myself no one could love. I could see it happening before my eyes. My bitterness was seeping into every word I said, every look I gave, and even when I wanted to I couldn’t control it or reign it in. I wasn’t a nice person to be around. And I tried not to, but I took it out on Shem. He didn’t deserve it – not one bit, but he bore the brunt of my anger. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had walked away.

But Shem is a rock. He took everything I threw at him, pulled me in when I pushed him away, and made me feel loved when I felt unlovable. It has been with Shem’s love, support, patience and encouragement that I have found a way forward through all of this. When I felt like giving up hope he would push me to see the good things in our life. He would research doctors and treatments and therapies that might work, he would encourage me to look at other options, always making my health and potential recovery his priority. Without him I don’t know if I would have made it. Showing me his ultimate devotion, he even gave up his career so he could stay at home to help care for me and our newborn daughter.

He has always said that we are in it together until the very end, “It’s you and me against the world.” I always thought these were cliches but when I saw how he was ready to be by my side with every medical challenge, fight for me, fight to keep our relationship strong, I finally realized the depth those words held.

Ultimately, my injury and subsequent chronic pain has bought us much closer together than ever. I know I can count on him no matter what. We spend much more time together now than we did pre-injury, and we both value and enjoy the time we spend together. We know each other better than anyone else. Even when we are mad at each other I know that he is still devoted to me.

The funny thing is, that’s how love is supposed to work. Love is not about falling in love with a beautiful face and healthy body, and only being there in the good times. It’s about loving someone for who they are, not the packaging they come in. It’s an enduring love that evolves and changes as our lives grow and change. The young beautiful people will one day grow old, and superficial love will fade as quickly as a beautiful flower in spring, strong and beautiful in the good weather, but withers and dies when a cold snap comes along. I know that our love is beautiful and strong and will overcome any challenge, no matter what my body can or can’t do – I only wish I had realized that earlier.

Follow this journey on Chronic Mumma.

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Originally published: June 29, 2017
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