Love in a time of sickness
It’s a question that came up when I first started dating, post diagnosis.
What do I tell this new person in my life? How significant is what I’m going through? Will it define me and this potential relationship? Will he be grossed out and turned off by potentially having to shoulder this burden with me?
When I first met my ex-man, I had just been diagnosed with histamine intolerance. I was riding high, convinced that my recovery was within sight. It was so close that I could taste it.
Sadly, I was very wrong. It became all too clear that the only sweetness I would taste was the bitterness of the stevia stems I (unsuccessfully) attempted to integrate into my low histamine, gluten free baking.
Previously to this, I had just ended a highly stressful relationship, where I was the sole earner, despite being so ill I could barely move from bed most days, and now I was ready to taste freedom. Life on my own finally, after back-to-back relationships since the age of 17. The thrill of being beholden to no one but myself was a joy in my mind. And yet eventually loneliness kicked in, and I began longing for a little one on one human contact.
My first foray into the dating pool wasn’t too successful. I had, till then, played up my illness on dates as a way of letting down gently those I didn’t wish to pursue me, but I was flummoxed as to how to proceed with this wonderful film producer with soul mate potential. Sadly, in my mind, I was still the me of the past. The party girl whose friends owned the coolest clubs and restaurants, the girl who abandoned her luggage in Rome airport (no time to wait for it) so she could jump on an earlier flight half way around the world, arriving on her new man’s doorstep with a bottle of champagne just hours before his departure. The perfect night back then ended with us sipping the dregs of a tequila bottle on an alabaster sanded beach, with nothing more pressing than waterskiing on the agenda the next day.
I was the woman who boldly boarded a flight to Baghdad, despite being terrified of flying, but barely ruffled by explosions. I had covered the Saddam Hussein trial, spurned the advances of terrifying middle eastern leaders with shocking human rights abuses under their belts, and yet here I was, worried this man would understand how ill I really was. Having initially shared that I was going through some “stuff”, he seemed not to care. But my own anxiety about not sharing the extent of my fears immediately drove a wedge between us, one that deepened as this stress prevented me from connecting on a human level. Soon it became apparent that the man I had so strongly attracted was encouraging me to cling to the past. I wasn’t that girl, or that woman anymore – he was dating a ghost. Things ended, badly, after a night out. I developed a five-day histamine fever – you know the one: migraine, wanting to crawl out of your skin, feeling strong waves of energy or contraction throughout. In the old days these led to seizures…
I knew it had to end.
Just six months later, sure I had a handle on this illness, I dated the man I would fall deeply and madly in love with, spending the next three years of my life with. Poor one. He’ll never claim back the hours, days, weeks or years I spent detailing the minutiae of my illness, recovery and research. Every moment, event and theory, was logged, in great detail, aloud. As he pointed out, it often seemed that I was uninterested in his input, so why was I burdening him? From anaphylactic shock in Kenya, to explaining over and over to new friends, or his, the absurd rules I lived by, the ones I believed kept me alive, the stopping every 15 minutes to use a loo, taking hours to order in restaurants (and then being inevitably upset when our 3rd world waiter got it horribly wrong), the poor one suffered with me. In the end, unsurprisingly, things went horribly wrong between us, for which I shoulder an equal, if not greater, burden.
Then something odd happened: once the stress of the relationship began dissipating, my recovery picked up steam. Surrounding myself once more with energetic, fun loving, life affirming friends and family shined a light so warm and healing deep within my soul, that I had no choice but to recover. I wanted this beautiful life. I needed to feel the rays of their non-judgemental love envelop me. I didn’t need anyone emotionally tied to my recovery in any way – I finally understood that I was stronger on my own two feet, and that no relationship would work until I was. The relationship I had held onto so tightly was based on my weakness: my fears of death, loneliness, of being shunned by my contemporaries for my weirdness, of needing someone strong enough to pick me up when I fell (literally). I wasn’t that person anymore.
So now what? It’s a question many readers of this blog either are asking, or will have to at some point (and judging by the number of emails I get for my advice on this, many are already).
It’s a great question, for which I have no concrete answer. I believe up front honesty is necessary with anyone you plan to date, but we must be clear about the extent of what we are going through. By that I mean I truly thought my world was collapsing in on me initially, and that I was so very horribly ill and would never recover. I was 10000000% wrong. But in presenting this image, I had potentially attracted a partner who was drawn to this reality.
It’s a tricky balance. I really understand the whole Alcoholics Anonymous approach of not being in a relationship with anything other than a plant during your recovery. Relationships have the power to heal, but also to hurt. In either case, having a nursemaid or enabler isn’t going to work when you grow into your fabulous healed self and try to maintain some semblance of sanity with your partner when you completely turn their world upside down.
Being left alone to heal can be daunting, leading us to fall into roles with people that are difficult to break free of, no matter how we try. Sometimes we may prefer not to break free of these roles – it’s just too lovely to have someone cater to your every need, to focus their entire being on your illness, of loving you through the hard times.
It’s important to ask ourselves some tough questions, share them with friends and family, and be honest with them, our partner, psychologist and or shaman/healer, and ask for their uncensored view of the situation.
In my case, I still believe it’s possible to have a balanced relationship when one of you is healing. It’s up to both partners to clearly define the parameters of the relationship, ie I’m happy to pick up the slack on days you’re down (cooking meals, doing the food shopping) but due to my own workload, can’t do it for more than X amount of time. And things like discussing whether having a family is truly an option you can manage when one of you is out of commission for days at a time. If you love each other, anything is possible.
I wish you all the best, no matter which road you travel. xo
Please don’t forget antihistamine, pain killing foods can still hurt us, so please always check with your doctor before adding new foods to your diet.