Finding true love: Thoughts on chronic illness and relationships
A columnist dissects the mechanics of her relationship with her partner
Sometimes I catch my partner, Felix, looking at me. He still looks at me the same way he did on our first date. His eyes shine as he dreamily gazes at me in a daze.
When I catch him doing this, I just have to know what’s running through his mind. His response is almost always the same, each word deliberately spoken: “I love you.”
Not everyone has what it takes to love someone with a chronic illness. And not everyone has what it takes to love me as a person. I picture a Venn diagram in which one circle has the people who are capable of loving someone with a chronic illness. Another has those capable of loving me as an individual. In the middle is a small intersection, and there, smiling from ear to ear, jumping about, and waving his arms so there is no chance for me to miss him, is Felix.
We didn’t fall in love by accident. Felix and I had been friends for a couple of years and Brazilian jiu-jitsu training buddies for a bit before that. What was beautiful about being friends before starting a relationship is that he already had some insight into my life and the struggles I face with my health.
He’d watched me struggle with colds, fatigue, and the anxiety that the COVID-19 pandemic caused me. By the time we had a conversation about what my health meant for our future, the ice had long been broken.
I’ve always been a very emotional, philosophical person with steadfast morals. Even without a chronic illness in the mix, those three characteristics have made my experience with love complex. When lupus came into the picture, finding my perfect someone seemed to become even more difficult.
Having lupus means that I need a lot more from my partner than the average person. I need more care, understanding, and sometimes, patience. Not everyone is able to support me mentally, emotionally, and even physically. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The fact that someone might not have the capacity to deal with all of my struggles along with their own doesn’t make them a bad person. It just means they’re not right for me.
I kissed a few frogs, spent a lot of time in my own head, and eventually came to a lasting epiphany. I’m not unlovable, but it isn’t always easy to love me. I need to be clear that when I say that, I’m not putting myself down or labeling myself unworthy. I’m being honest with myself and acknowledging the reality of my life.
A day in the life
In the last two months, I’ve been sick twice. I spent a week in bed, a week slowly recovering, and the next three weeks trying to get rid of a lingering cough. I still had the remnants of my last cold when I woke to feel a new tickle in my throat. Knowing what likely awaited me, my heart sank. With a sigh, I walked into the bathroom and lined up the cavalry: sinus flush, nasal spray, vitamins C and D, tissues, and antibacterial soap. Here we go, again!
Having a suppressed immune system isn’t easy on me, but I’m not alone. It’s not easy on Felix, either. When I’m down on myself and upset that I’m in this situation again, he looks helpless. I know he’d give anything — in a heartbeat, without hesitation — to make me better. But he can’t, as there’s nothing either of us can do. It’s all just part of it.
The truth is that few people will ever truly understand what I’m going through. I spent many years wishing for a universe where people got me without having to actually be in my shoes. I wouldn’t wish a chronic illness on my worst enemy, but I’ll always wish more people understood where I’m coming from.
I’ve been in relationships where I was connected to someone and still felt entirely alone in my struggle. It took being loved by my wonderful partner to realize that empathy isn’t the singular answer to my loneliness like I thought it was. Coming from someone who wants to love you for all that you are, in all your hardships and regardless of your struggle, love can be the answer to loneliness.
But not everyone is capable of that kind of love. Not everyone has what it takes to love me, and that’s OK!
Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.