Grieving My Partner's Potential New Diagnosis — One Step at a Time
This story has been published with permission from the author’s partner.
“I got the MRI results back.”
My boyfriend’s text came in just as I was starting my day, and I eagerly opened the screenshot he’d sent. The air felt light — after all, how hard could the news be? My partner was finally getting answers.
“Multiple foci of T2 hyperintensity…”
“Pattern signal abnormality…”
“Demyelination in the setting of multiple sclerosis (MS)…”
Suddenly, I felt like I could barely breathe. The room seemed to close in around me, leaving me frozen in place.
Multiple sclerosis? That can’t be right…
At the moment, all I could do was support my boyfriend.
“How do you feel?” I texted.
“Sad,” he replied.
Within an hour of receiving the news, I was in tears, crying to my therapist about all of my emotions — and why I didn’t think I deserved to feel them.
“The MRI came back. It’s multiple sclerosis. Oh, gosh, I’m crying, I’m crying. I shouldn’t be crying — this isn’t even my fight; it’s his.”
My therapist reassured me that my feelings were completely valid — that she knew I would support my boyfriend no matter what. But that didn’t stop my sadness from quickly giving way to fear.
“We both want children. If he has MS, our children will have two disabled parents. The government could take away our kids…”
I knew I was thinking too far ahead too quickly, but I couldn’t seem to stop my fear. I would stay by my boyfriend’s side no matter what, but would the world treat him the same? Would we be able to thrive as a disabled couple living in a society that prizes physical ability and otherwise presumes incompetence?
Within a few hours, I began bargaining.
“I wish I were the one who might have MS. I don’t want him to go through this. He’s seen how hard this is. He’s scared and sad and uncertain. I’d take MS in a heartbeat if I could — I’d hate to see him struggle with a potential new diagnosis.”
Never mind that I have a neurological condition of my own. I didn’t care — I just wanted to take away my partner’s fear.
In my desperation, I struck up hundreds of unheard deals with God, “Running Up That Hill”-style.
“Can I please, please take this journey instead? I think I can handle it. What do You need me to do to make this all go away? I’ll do anything. God, are You up there? Kate Bush? Anyone?!”
All I knew was everything my boyfriend had been through in the past and all of the trials and tribulations he’d seen a loved one with MS walk through. Nothing I knew would stop me from grieving my partner’s diagnosis.
And then, as suddenly as I began bargaining, denial hit.
“This can’t be right! He got this MRI to explain symptoms that have nothing to do with multiple sclerosis. He has no symptoms at all! Maybe the MRI doctors screwed up. Maybe he got the wrong results. None of this makes any sense.”
Then, I shut out the world, turned on the TV, and pretended that multiple sclerosis doesn’t exist and MRIs aren’t a thing and nothing even remotely jarring recently happened to my partner.
Thankfully, my boyfriend got a new dose of perspective after speaking with his family about his MRI results.
“I haven’t technically been diagnosed yet, and I feel like it’s way better not to get over my skis by worrying about this. If I have MS, I have MS. If I don’t, I don’t. I just don’t know right now.”
In rapidly going through most of the stages of grief — albeit completely out of order — I forgot about the reality of the situation: My boyfriend’s MRI results aren’t a formal diagnosis. There’s no need to ruminate about my boyfriend losing mobility or being completely immunocompromised just yet — nor is there reason to worry about the government taking away our completely non-existent future children. My partner isn’t letting his potential fears consume him because there isn’t officially anything to fear yet — and it’s OK for me to take the same approach.
Some days, I can’t believe my boyfriend’s MRI results point to multiple sclerosis. At the same time, I listen to him, accept him wholeheartedly, and support him when he discusses his potential MS. I’ve mostly accepted that my partner might have multiple sclerosis, and while I haven’t fully accepted how his symptoms could affect his life and our relationship, I’m trying to keep perspective. Until my boyfriend either hears that he has multiple sclerosis or discovers that he’s battling something entirely different, I’ll let myself grieve while still reminding myself not to drown in my grieving process — and of course, play “Running Up That Hill” on repeat.
Getty image by Michael Roberts