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Why Love Will Always Win in Our Relationship as a Couple With Disabilities

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Life with disabilities is challenging; adding an intimate relationship can multiply the challenges. Both partners having disabilities would then seem to make a relationship almost impossible — but actually, with both of us disabled, we each can deal with our disabilities better than if we were not together.

Both of us had prior partners who were not sympathetic, who were even disbelieving of the symptoms and issues that preceded actual and complete disability. We were existing: holding down jobs for the necessity of living expenses, having to take days off for those times when the symptoms were more than we could bear. We forced our bodies through the daily motions of life. Without accommodating the symptoms and the signs, with poor sleep due to pain and stress, we were both getting sicker.

We were both working when we met. We kept wishing we had more time than just a few hours each evening and the weekends to be together. Be careful what you wish for. It may happen. It certainly did for us.

I was the first to be ill enough that I went out of work on short-term disability, and then on long-term. I have fibromyalgia and degenerative osteoarthritis in my spine, along with a few other issues that aren’t major problems on their own, but add up to just another reason I can’t work. My single worst symptom is chronic, intractable pain. If I am not medicated, my pain levels hit about 8-9 on the 1-10 scale. Not only couldn’t I work, but with that much pain going on, just living life was a challenge.

Being our sole source of income, he felt the pressure to work harder. He used to work for a cable company as tech support for the customers. He could handle that – what he couldn’t handle and what ended up breaking him was his supervisor. She created a very hostile working environment with the stated goal of dismantling his team.

For three years, he had worked under that threat. One morning he started to reach for his keys and had a panic attack. We were able to get an emergency appointment with our doctor, who told him that he had used up his lifetime supply of being able to handle stress. He ended up voluntarily checking into a mental health facility for a week.

When he came home, he had updated diagnoses. He went from being bipolar type II to bipolar type I. The doctors had also added further diagnoses: borderline personality disorder and stress anxiety disorder. Between mental health issues and the physical issues already present, not only was he unable to return to his job, he was no longer able to do any job.

So there we were, with endless amounts of time together. Now on a very limited budget, we spent almost all of our time at home, each of us on a computer. We were able to have conversations as long as we wanted to talk. We watched movies together. At one point, I was not medicated for pain. I don’t remember much of about a six month period. I do know he looked out for me, made sure I ate and made sure I was comfortable as possible. When he had his bad spells, I would take care of him.

One day he said to me, “We are essentially retired. We can live anywhere we want to. Where shall we go?” We did our research and removed those portions of the country that were not suitable either in climate or in cost of living. (Part of the reason we were moving was because the cost of living in northern VA is very high and access to organic foods very limited.) We chose Eureka, CA and he set the date we would go: November 1, 2013.

The last six months before the move were busy. I gave away things; I donated stuff to the local thrift stores; I gave heirloom items to my children. We were taking nothing with us but four suitcases and two carry-on bags, flying first class across the country — which I highly recommend! We had packed a few boxes (mostly kitchen stuff) that his parents sent later on, once we were settled.

It was hard to leave behind family and friends, but the advantages – lower cost of living, organic foods, better climate — were too great to not go. And in the three and a half years we’ve been here, we have never regretted the decision. We’ve been married for six and a half years and have had more stuff happen to us in that time than many people see in a lifetime. We’ve had our differences, even unhappy words occasionally, but most days, we are in sync and happy. We both acknowledge that if it weren’t for the other, we might not be alive today because doing this alone would have been too much. That’s not going to happen now, because neither of us will leave the other.

Would life have been easier without the disabilities? Of course. Would our marriage be as rock-steady and lasting as it is? Maybe. Who knows? If your relationship has never been tested, you don’t know what will happen between you in a rough time, in adversity. We’ve been tested, that’s for sure. Loss of income, loss of health, loss of social contact (due to that lack of health).

Even as much as we love living in Eureka, there is still the loss of physical contact with our families. I have four grandchildren and I’ve never seen and held the youngest. We live across the country from all family: my kids, his parents and sister, my brother, my parents. No one is close enough to just pop in for an hour. So when we got here, we had each other as a familiar face. We’ve made friends, but it’s not quite the same as someone who shares your DNA.

The road has been really rough. We’ve each had a lot of problems. But that has only made our relationship stronger. We are so in tune with each other that we can tell without being told when the other is feeling bad, or didn’t get enough sleep. We share the chores and what doesn’t get done, just doesn’t get done – until someone is feeling up to dealing with it. We both cook, so there’s always a hot meal if we want it. We both have someone who can check our skin in places we can’t reach/see to make sure we’re not getting pressure sores; who can remind us of our various appointments; who can give a hug and a kiss just because.

I cannot imagine going through the reality of my life and actually being able to deal with it appropriately if I didn’t have him – and I know he feels the same way about me. Our relationship has been tested by fire, so to speak, and we are still here, we are still together and we will not willingly leave each other. I don’t see that changing any time at all, let alone soon. Does it sometimes require effort to maintain the intimacy, the kindness, the love, when we’re feeling particularly bad? A bit, but the rewards are so much greater that the effort is gladly made, without any ponderous thoughts about doing it.

I love him. He loves me. Nothing else really matters, because Love will always win.

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Thinkstock photo by Jacob Lund.

Originally published: February 22, 2017
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