Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kindred Spirits And Not So Kindred Ones: Chronic Illness Is A “Strange Bedfellow”

Chronic illness, especially if you are relatively new to it, forces a person to do a lot of soul searching to find out what you really want and need in your life. Sometimes this soul searching also leads to thinking about what you want and need from other people, as well…

My sister and I don’t always get along. Especially when I was still living at home, we were always competing for everyone’s attention. And honestly, in an attention competition, my sister wins hands down.

But ever since I moved out, we have become much closer. Over break, she and I were up late, talking and laughing, just like sisters who are close in age do. But my sister and I are nearly 10 years apart, and she is quickly becoming bigger and better than me (even though she’s the younger one).

Somehow, our conversation got onto the subject of boys/men, and she asked me what qualities I thought the ideal man for her would need to have (keep in mind that she’s 14). I thought about it, told her what I thought, and then we moved on to me…

And my sister said something like, he’s got to be able to handle your diseases. I haven’t talked to my sister that much about lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, so her comment sort of took me by surprise. My response was something like, are you trying to be daft? You make me sound crazy (or like I have an STD)…

But she was being serious, and she’s right.

Something I haven’t really shared with readers of this blog is information about my personal life. And I only do it now because it relates to chronic illness.

But don’t get too excited. It’s not that exciting, I promise!

I’ve been dating here and there (read rather sparsely) recently. There hasn’t been anything serious, but it has really helped me realize the kind of person that I need and want in my life.

I went out on one date with a guy*. The date was fine, but there’s not much more to be said about it. When asked if I wanted to see the guy again, I politely said no.

While I felt like the guy wasn’t my type, and that overall, the date lacked chemistry, I felt bad. Maybe I had been too snap in my judgments. But one comment he made resonated with me. He was talking about his work (he’s not a doctor or in the medical profession) and mentioned that whenever he has to get blood drawn, he has to take anxiety medication in order to calm his nerves. The fear of needles, I completely understand – I used to have it myself (minus the need for drugs, although I do recall some handholding – 27 vials at once certainly makes that fear go away real quick) – but the reality is that someone that I have a relationship with is going to need to be able to handle a variety of health related issues.

And disclosing the fact that you’re chronically ill isn’t exactly first date material!

(I haven’t actually figured out the logistics of disclosure in a romantic relationship that lasts more than one date. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it…)

And I know that it’s going to be difficult to find someone who wants to be in a committed, long-term relationship with someone who is chronically ill. (I know that person is out there, I just haven’t found him yet) People go into relationships knowing that the possibility of illness may arise at some point. But it’s going to take a certain kind of person to be able to go into a relationship where that cloud is already looming.

So in many ways, my sister’s comment is spot on because accepting (and even loving) me with all that comes with me, good and bad, (sickness and health), is really the best that I (or anyone) can hope for.

So, while this particular guy and I did not connect, I feel a connection with my sister that I’ve never felt before, that only sisters have. We are kindred spirits in a way in which even best friends don’t have. I’ve often said to my sister of others, she’s my friend, but she’s not my sister.

So it’s nice to know that in a world where there are doctors and men to drive me crazy, and all of the other people that may walk in and out of my life, that there are people that really do get me. And it’s really nice, now more than ever, to know this, given the fact that I recently lost a member of my in-person support system (see Unfortunate News and Making Sense Of The Senseless).

I do still feel bad about turning the guy down for a second date, as I would not have wanted to be in that seat if the situation was reversed. However, I think it’s important to know what you need and want from a relationship, and also, be willing to put the time and effort into it if you think it’s going to work; and to know when to throw in the towel when it’s not.

Chronic illness isn’t an easy thing to deal with, and it can have a wide-ranging impact. So I can’t begrudge a guy who can’t handle it, it’s just that’s not what I need in my life. I need someone who is going to stand by me and be there for me. And quite frankly, there have been several people in my life giving me mixed signals, and honestly, I don’t have time and energy to pursue nothing, so it’s good to be honest and up front about what you want and what you don’t.

I tried unsuccessfully and for too long to deny the reality of my illnesses and their consequences. But in order to move my life forward, and make it as productive as possible, I have to know and admit to others that things have to be different. And that includes my relationships, romantic or otherwise.

I guess, illness or not, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. Am I right?

Sometimes the best self-care is knowing who or what is best for ourselves.

* This post is in no way meant to embarrass this person, especially considering that the details have been purposely kept vague, I only met him once myself, and he probably will never read this blog.

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