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The Vulnerability of Dating While Chronically Ill

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In my experience, being single and sick in your 20s sucks. Dating while you’re chronically ill sucks even worse. Although I’m closer to 30, life circumstances such as chronic illness, trauma, and growing up isolated translated into me dating later rather than sooner. I often joke and say I’m living my teens more than a decade too late. I laugh about it, but sometimes, honestly, I cry about it too.

After having what I consider a pretty successful and good go at a long-term relationship, I’m trying to heal and move on. There’s grieving there to be done, but I’m also trying to keep my forward momentum in the growth department and embrace this thing called living.

Trying to live a “normal” life isn’t easy with chronic pain and chronic PTSD. My brain and body feel far from normal. I’m feeling both the physical pain, the emotional pain, and now I’m on my own to face it again. Although easy to do, I never took for granted having a partner on my chronic illness journey. I was always aware that the support helped and that my sickness wouldn’t simply disappear because I was in love. I still had my bad days and I had to learn to be vulnerable in front of a person to whom I only ever wanted to appear attractive. But, growth looked like acceptance and not being embarrassed that I’m chronically ill.

Now, I’m back to square one. I’m single and I’m not entirely ready to mingle, because I have to communicate all over again that I have these things called fibromyalgia and trauma-induced post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t want to do this part all over again. I’ve already felt the sting of hearing that “everyone needs love” in response to a potential “almost date” hearing about my chronic illness. Needles to say, I didn’t put the effort into showing up for that date; I declined it altogether and never looked back.

Then come all the questions like, when do I tell this (hopefully) great guy I’m chronically ill? How much do I tell? Do I let him know I’m not going to get better, but there may be better days? That I’m far beyond my chronic pain and I bring wonderful things to the table even on the days I won’t leave bed or have to cancel our plans?

I think everyone puts their best face forward while dating. It’s only natural that we want to make a good first impression, right? But describing your likes and interests and then adding little “hints” here and there that you can’t always enjoy them is tiring.

For example, I love the outdoors. Nature brings me peace and joy when I’m surrounded by it. But, when asked out on a date that includes hiking and not knowing if you’re going to be able to walk when that day comes is, well, frustrating to say the least. It also causes me to feel self-conscious and vulnerable. I’d rather go with a family member who’s acquainted with my conditions and who will understand if I need to pull out my cane to make it back to the car after ending our outing. Maybe I should stick with simple coffee dates…. Except I hate coffee, hmm.

I also like to go out and conquer life. In spite of the pain and regardless of whether I have tough days mentally, I want to live life in the moment and as fully as possible.

I want to experience things like awkward first dates and embarrassing kisses and nervous laughter while falling in love. I want passionate love-making and the mundane little things like watching movies while in bed. I want a partner to share in my good days and bad. Someone who helps me grow and challenges me in all the right ways. I love discovering who I am and what I want out of life and having that cheerleader cheering me on. I want to be held. I want to be given space during PTSD attacks. I want understanding when I’m stuck in bad memories. I want romance, companionship, a lover, a best friend, and a partner that reminds me of the best things in life.

Since I’ve experienced this, oh, how I want it even more. It’s just the process that’s difficult. The vulnerability and learning to trust again. The accepting someone may walk away or you might find you’re better on your own. Better off without that person walking this journey with you. It’s understanding relationships aren’t always forever, but it’s perfectly OK to try for forever. Enjoying the present is so important, even more so if you have a history of trauma and constant daily health challenges.

I want to try for love. For happiness. For living my best life even with my health problems. Maybe that offensive “almost date” wasn’t completely wrong. Everyone deserves love. I have chronic pain and an incurable illness. And I am everyone.

Unsplash photo by Alex Iby.

Originally published: July 24, 2021
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