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Chronic Illness Insights From Ending a Relationship During COVID-19

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It’s been a while since I penned a blog, or anything for that matter. A lot has happened since I last put finger to keyboard, both personally for me, and globally. In case any of you haven’t noticed, in early March the world went into lockdown due to the arrival of a deadly virus resulting in a global pandemic. It’s been hard to miss, I grant you. Arguably less importantly in the grand scheme of things, my own 15 year long relationship came to an end, and I recently (after several months in quarantine with my ex-partner) moved into a little flat of my own, leaving the home we’d shared together for around a decade.

Now, I understand this situation — essentially a break-up — is far from unique, and that people fall in and out of love (and one another’s beds) every day, although I do hope you are all observing the two-meter rule. But my own experience of a separation involved no actual separation. For around four months at least. Fresh from a painful break-up we suddenly found ourselves stranded together indoors with no means of comfort or “escape” to the wider world. It’s quite something when your options are live in awkward discomfort and tension with the person you once thought you’d bear children for or leave home and most likely die from an incredibly lethal and contagious virus. A real Sophie’s choice.

Anyway, you may be wondering where all this is going considering I generally write about chronic illness. That’s fine, but let’s not pretend you don’t have time to waste so please be patient…

Living with a chronic condition (or multiple in my and many of my friends’ cases) gives a unique perspective on “lockdown life.” For so many of us with long-term illnesses, finding ourselves stuck indoors for days to weeks on end is a common occurrence. Aftermath of surgeries, invasive procedures, flare-ups of our conditions or just plain extreme exhaustion can all ensure we find ourselves capable of not much more than lying horizontal for as long as our bladders/bed frames will allow. Staying indoors, and often alone, is vital for our repeated recovery and recuperation.

It’s been interesting to see how quickly many of the people around us have fallen to pieces at the idea of this self-imposed isolation. Being separated from family, friends and the convenience of undertaking the pleasures we get from “normal” life is of course distressing for all of us, but the reality that we are doing this for the sake of our own, and that of those around us; health, is an idea that is far from new to chronically ill patients. We have long since understood that isolating ourselves from those we love and remaining firmly in our comfortable homes is essential for the maintenance (and ideally, improvement) of our own health. This is something we do over and over again, often to the detriment of our mental health.

Personally, this particular period of enforced quarantine has been painful in a myriad of ways (losing love, missing hugs, longing for touch, craving contact with my family and friends, watching an unbearable and seemingly endlessly rising death count…), but the biggest revelation has been in the lack of physical pain. Generally encountering any sniff of stress or anxiety sends my Crohn’s disease into a tailspin. Anything from worrying about losing my job, to worrying I wasn’t polite enough to that girl who served me in Starbucks, can twist my bowels into a knot almost instantly. Naturally then, finding myself single in the midst of a pandemic, having to find somewhere to live, trying to sell a house, etc. etc. meant I was wholly prepared to be hospitalized at the absolute minimum. But barely a rustle was felt from my insides.

Don’t get me wrong; this has been (and continues to be) no [socially distanced] walk in the park; I’ve spent about twp months solidly crying, my skin has been so wet its peeled off, my eyes so swollen I couldn’t open them. I’ve never felt sadness like it. Sadness deep inside that has made me feel like I’ve buried myself and can’t find a way out. Days spent unable to force myself to stand up because what’s the point? My cats fur so sodden with tears he thought he was getting an impromptu bed bath etc. etc. You get the general point.

My mental health has been in the toilet, but I have not.

What I can garner from this is that maybe it is OK to “trust my gut’.” Maybe something inside knew this was the right thing? Maybe a lot of the stress and anxiety I was so resigned to feeling was due to living within a relationship that didn’t work. Maybe I’ve finally lost my remaining marbles. Either way, I’ve always tried to listen to my body; it doesn’t always behave as well as I’d like, but it always tells me what I need, whether that be vitamins, bed, water or now maybe just some peace. So I’m continuing to listen and be patient with myself and the pain of others. To sit with it and not force myself to push through it.

I hope whatever your current situation you find some peace within these unpredictable and uncertain times. Look after yourself and those around you and be as safe as can be. I was chatting to your gut earlier and it told me you should continue to socially distance and wear a mask and I reckon you should trust yours too.

Originally published: September 30, 2020
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