Friday, April 11, 2014

Date Night

I'm really excited to be participating in the WEGO Health Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge.  I'm hoping that the challenge factor will motivate me to write more often (every day this month, in fact!), and that that will develop into a habit of writing regularly after the month is over.  More importantly, I'm hoping that by sharing my experiences, thoughts, and insights about living with chronic and invisible illnesses, I'll be able to bring comfort to someone struggling with the same issues.

*Note - I'll be including this introductory paragraph at the beginning of every post, so that anyone who's checking in will have that background info.  If you come back another day (and I hope you do), you can skip this part!

Today's assignment: Date Night.  We've seen some posts from Health Activists on dating tips when you have a chronic illness. What tips do you have for those looking for the one fish in this big pond?

Drawn together at my Sweet 16
For as much as the job search post was apropos for me to write about, this one seems to be just the opposite.  My husband and I grew up together - I had a crush on him when I was a child, we dated on and off when I was a teenager, and I've spent pretty much my whole adult life with him.  I haven't dated in decades, so it's not really something on which I could give expert advice.

I did have another long term boyfriend back in college, but looking back he provided only the example of what not to do.  Actually, thinking back to that relationship, it might provide the best tip for dating when you have a chronic illness: find someone who is sympathetic to your condition and your needs.

Though it was long before my symptoms became as severe or persistent as they are now, and even longer before I was ever diagnosed, my boyfriend once told me that I was "such a drag" because I was "sick all the time."  Rather than encourage, support, or take care of me in my time of need (however often it may have been), he blamed me, and made me feel worse.  He gave me a complex that has been extremely difficult to shake: even today, I occasionally fear that friends or loved ones won't really understand, and will leave me as a result (most of the time, I know better).

As people with chronic illnesses, we feel bad enough (both physically and emotionally) on our own, and there are more than enough people out there who don't understand what we're going through and inadvertently make us feel worse.  When looking for a potential mate, we need to find someone who will want to ease our burden, not add to it.  If we are not up for a night on the town, s/he should be willing to bring the town to us: delivery and Netflix can be a much more enjoyable date than a five star restaurant and Broadway show if our bodies aren't up for the trip.

An important thing to consider here is how much to tell, and how soon.  We always want to present our best self and make a great first impression, so it may seem like a good idea to try to keep our illnesses to ourselves at first.  We can hide our pain, grit our teeth while we run around too much (and suffer the consequences when we get home), and hope to do it all again as soon as possible.  The problem is that there will come a time when we can't hide it any longer.  Then we may find out too late (after we're already emotionally invested) that this person is not willing - or able - to be as supportive as we need.

On the other hand, we don't want to scare away our potential mate with too much - and too heavy - information too early on.  Living with chronic/autoimmune/invisible diseases is overwhelming for us, and we've had years to get used to it.  There are times when it feels like our pain and fatigue is so huge, that there is no room for anything else.  We have to work hard to remind ourselves that we are more than our illnesses, so we've got to be sure to show off our best qualities as well.

Ultimately, it becomes a balancing act - we've got to find a way to tell someone early enough that we have abc condition, which often causes xyz symptoms.  We've got to ask for understanding - that we may have to cancel plans, or need to avoid certain situations.  The Spoon Theory is a great piece to share that helps put it all into perspective.  At the same time, we can let that person know the things we can do, and the tricks we've learned to help us through more difficult days.

Renewing vows on our 10th anniversary
I've got to take a moment to say (again) that I am truly lucky to have found someone as caring, supportive, and protective as my husband ... and even more so to have found him so early on.  Dating isn't easy for anyone, and a chronic illness just complicates the issue (as it does with every other aspect of life), so I'm glad it's something I don't have to deal with anymore.  That said, I do believe that the universe somehow brings us what we need when we need it.  My wish for every person reading this is that you find the person meant for you, the one who will love and support you, care and provide for you, make you laugh and cry, and most of all, make you feel like the most special person in the world ... just like my hubby does for me.

**If you like what you read, tell a friend.  In fact, tell me, too - post a comment below!  If you don't ... well ... I'm all for honesty, but ... please be gentle!