The start of a new relationship is the most exciting part. Butterflies flutter in your stomach, your heart lifts when you see a call or text message, you fluctuate between excitement and nervousness while getting ready for a date. But what about the anxiety that comes from deciding how to tell someone you’re starting to care about that you’re sick? How does a diagnosis change a long-term relationship? How do you go through all of this and still love yourself? These are some of the topics that we touched on in this week’s HAChat.
The most important relationship you have is with yourself, especially when it comes to managing your health. Learning to deal with a condition has a direct impact on your self esteem, and therefore your relationships with others. Relationships with one’s own health vary depending on how long one has been dealing with that disease. As you’re learning how your condition will affect your life, the relationship tends to be terrible, full of disappointment and betrayal. Then things might slowly begin to shift, develop into what @TiffanyAndLupus: describes as “a love/hate relationship.” Acceptance is a gradual process that comes with time, though the love/hate relationship may remain. Overall, @TiffanyAndLupus: Self-esteem issues usually go hand in hand with chronic illness. It’s a challenge I personally have daily.
So the question is, how do you stay on the “love” side of the love/hate relationship? Everyone has different coping mechanisms. Finding understanding and support is important for many people, and for our Health Activists, reaching out to support others is equally important. Connecting to others that understand what you’re going through is key for bouncing back during tough times. Some say that a sense of humor helps. It’s also important to understand and respect yourself, to know that illness is not your fault, to learn what taking care of yourself really means, and to indulge in the little things that will make each day a little better.
Romantic relationships are another story. Now you have to balance your own needs with someone else’s. How do you go about that? When do you tell someone about your condition? As @mandylipka tweeted yesterday: “It’s like ripping off a band-aid. But the fear of being judged or losing the person is crushing.”
For invisible illnesses it’s both easier and more difficult to disclose a condition. While invisible illnesses allow you to more or less choose when to tell someone, they might not understand what being sick means to you. Visible illnesses take that decision from you.
@Joltdude Usually my condition brings itself out, the tubing and bruises are a dead giveaway
So where do you find the courage to rip the band aid off? How do you know if it’s the right time? How much do you tell them? Unfortunately, there’s no handbook to tell you exactly the right time, and it seems so dependent on the person, the relationship, and the condition.
Longterm relationships are different. In the intro to the movie 50/50, 27 year old Adam is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. He and his girlfriend, Rachel, have been together for some time, but Adam still gives her an “out” when he is first diagnosed. He understands that it might be too much and doesn’t want her to bail during his treatment, which she sadly does. This is an unfortunately real scenario. TiffanyAndLupus T2: I’ve heard so many real life stories of those who are chronically ill & lose their loved ones because of the complications. #HAchat -3:28 PM. No, it doesn’t state anywhere in the wedding vows that “if you get too sick I’m allowed to quit loving & caring for you,” but that doesn’t mean that this doesn’t happen. Sometimes it seems that love just isn’t enough. Illness can wear on you and your partner. You may no longer be able to control all the variables you need to stay healthy. Finances can become a huge source of anxiety. Ourchronicpain said, “I think Finances are a big issue of illness and relationships. Someone new, or current, may see that illness as a burden.” It is a huge disappointment when friends, family and significant others don’t play the roles that you envision for them, or when they don’t understand what you’re going through. But it’s important in managing your health to learn what you can and cannot expect from others, and to seek support elsewhere if necessary. As kimmieCollas shared, “Because of other issues, my blood relatives are no longer in my life. My “chosen” family is supportive.”
Setting up boundaries is one way to maintain balance in any relationship. Obviously your caregiver is going to need information on your health on a day-to-day basis, but not everyone in your life will and it might not be best for your relationships with friends and family to provide so many details about your condition. The key is figuring out what works for you and yours. ArtAppleADay I have friends who know but I don’t talk about AS or my health to. It is nice to find some balance AND a place to get away from it. #hachat -3:42 PM Feb 7th, 2012. At the same time, as TiffanyAndLupus put it, “Honesty is vital. By sugar-coating how my illness made me feel daily; I only confused my friends/family to it’s severity.”
Finally, for all the Rachel’s out there, there are a lot of heroes as well; caregivers and friends that you know you can always rely on even when your health gets bad. It’s important to remember that though your condition might change your relationships, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t deserving of love in your life, or that you won’t find it.
Who’s your Valentine/caregiver/champion this year and how have they helped you in managing your condition? How do you keep up with relationships and your condition? Get a conversation going in your community!