Loving Someone With a Disability Doesn't Make Me a Hero
I’m a partner to a person with disability. That automatically makes me a carer. Why? Because I have a responsibility to my partner, to ensure he always stays in good health. I respect his family, and their efforts to keep him strong and well during all those years I wasn’t around for him yet – a good 80 percent of his life so far. I don’t feel forced or obliged to do so. I do it because I care for his well-being too.
Occasionally, when I mention it to other people – what I do, the times I’ve had to put his needs before my own – I get the sense they think it’s heroic. Just short of saintly, even. Some people would say it’s a choice they personally wouldn’t make, because they either don’t possess that strength of spirit, or they claim to be “only human.” But here’s the thing: I’m just as human as everybody else.
I don’t think I’m made of stronger stuff compared to other people out there. I mess up; I make mistakes. I do things that aren’t good for my own health (like sleeping late/too little, worrying too much, or eating food that isn’t good for me) and may sometimes make choices that aren’t good for my partner or myself. I’m selfish sometimes. If it boiled down to my partner’s needs versus my own, I’d ultimately give in to him – but sometimes, I admit I put up a fight.
Being thought of as saintly or heroic makes me feel like I can’t do any of that. Like the only choices I can make are the “good” choices, regardless of how I feel or what my own needs are at a particular moment.
I’m a person with anxiety, and tendencies towards depression, who’s had to battle eating disorders in the past. I get minor panic attacks triggered by certain thoughts or moments. I get “mental overload” sometimes, which makes me lose focus in the here and now, and as a result I’ve done such things as
ramming the back of our car into another parked vehicle as well as driving it onto the sidewalk. When people think of me as the “able” one and the one who needs to be stronger, I sometimes can’t help but feel stripped of my right to just be human.
I can’t help but fear my anxiety might get in the way of being a “good” carer for my partner. I fear I won’t be “good enough,” and my insecurities and fears feed right into that. I can’t complain – not even when I so badly need to express how I feel – especially if the situation has been created by my partner’s condition. People tell me I have no choice but to accept it unconditionally, or else we will be stuck in an unhealthy relationship dynamic filled with unmet expectations and passive aggressive thoughts towards one another. In a way, they are right — unconditional acceptance is the key to contentment in our relationship – but please give me some leeway to get there at my own pace.
I can’t always be understanding, giving or selfless. But for somebody I love, and to whom I’ve pledged my life, I can certainly do my best to be the very best version of myself.
I’m a carer. But above and beyond that, I am human.
Getty image by Teksomolika.