R&R (Rheumatoid Arthritis & Relationships)

Chronic illness can impact both the relationship you have with yourself and the relationship you have with others.

One of the things I found hardest when diagnosed with RA and the start of my eye operations was coming to terms with the fact that life wasn’t going to play out as I had imagined.

In hindsight this is the case for most people I’m sure, whether living with disability or not. How often does life go to plan? However, at 23 this was a hard pill to swallow . I didn’t realise life would be quite so different to the ‘plan’.

So how did I deal with this fundamental change? Well initially I largely ignored it, buried my head in the sand. I had always been fiercely independent, physically and mentally strong and I was damned if I was going to let any of that change because someone had labelled me with this condition.

I was successful at carrying on as normal, or at least to the outside world. I told people on a need to know basis or if I had to talk about it, I would brush it under the carpet explaining that it didn’t really impact me, it made no difference. But inside something had shifted, the way I viewed myself had changed.

I lost a lot of confidence and self worth, feeling like I had gained a life long illness and lost my identity at the same time. How would people view me? Would they think I was limited now? How would my partner view me? I had no choice but to live with RA and Glaucoma and the operations, medications and hospital appointments that came with it but he had a choice, maybe it would all be too much for him, or for anyone else to take on?

I have felt in the past like this was my burden to bare, I knew I could cope with going through it all but I didn’t feel like someone else would be able to.

I had gone from seeing my positive attributes and how I could enhance someone’s life, to feeling like I would be a burden. It is incredibly hard to nagivate these feelings.

Feeling like you are a burden to someone is extremely hard. A couple of things happen as a result;

1. You never really talk about if you are struggling or need support, believing for some reason that this will make it more real, like you will be reminding your partner of the fact you come with baggage, with your illness or;

2. You push them away, because despite what they say or however much they reassure you, you know best and they would definitely be better off without you and your illness.

Both of these behaviours are unhelpful. It has taken me a long time to recognise when I behave in this way and to change my perception of living with an illness and accept it. I have learnt to trust people and ask for help and support when I need it, realising this is not a sign of weakness.

Nowadays instead of focusing on how life isn’t what I expected I embrace it. I honestly believe I am a stronger person for it. I view the world and life differently, I am empathetic and more accepting of myself and others.

This has been one of the hardest posts I have written but I felt it was important to show others that no matter what you are, your are YOU. Your illness doesn’t define you it shapes you.

I’m not my RA. I’m still Zoe and I can be and am all the things I want to be.

As a final thought I asked my partner for his view on being in a relationship with someone with a chronic illness, this is what he said:

The difficult aspect of dating someone with a chronic illness is the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. You are desperate to make your partner feel better, but the realisation that it is something out of your control is incredibly frustrating. However, I came to realise how much of an important role I can play in keeping Zoe’s spirits up mentally so she feels she has the support to deal with flare-ups.

It is important to know that when you have a chronic illness it isn’t only hard for you to navigate it is also hard for those closest to you. Asking for help not only helps me It also helps my friends and family.

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