To love or not to love?

It was May of 2017 when I first found out I would be getting a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line. I didn’t want to tell my partner, fearing it would change the dynamic we had. I vividly remember telling myself in the mirror, “nobody’s going to love you with a PICC line”, and fully believing my reflection. There were nights when I would sob in my pillow, wishing this wasn’t my reality, praying for magic that could turn me into a healthy 21-year-old.

The following months were a period of adjustment, but I slowly regained my confidence, making peace with the device in my arm. During this time, my partner's support was unwavering, reassuring me that my illness did not abate our love.

Months later, a job took me to a new city where I found myself single again. I tried to hold onto that confidence I had just worked so hard to acquire in my previous relationship, but still struggled with how I would learn to build the courage to tell new partners about my disease.

Loving someone requires so much extra effort, vulnerability, and communication. As poet Sylvia Plath quotes, “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.” My chronic illness consumed all the mental energy I had, and the idea of devoting some of that energy elsewhere was something I struggled with. I had to decide: let my guard down or be alone.

I have been able to fall in love again, and have come to realize that Lyme is a part of me, and probably always will be, but Lyme is not me. Over the past few years, I have become increasingly familiar with the ins and outs of loving with chronic illness. During this time, I have come to understand three fundamental elements crucial to making a relationship work while fighting chronic illness:

  1. Be honest. Be candid about your experience and disclose the day-to-day challenges you face. When you bottle up how you feel, it manifests in resentment toward your partner. Help them understand. Walk them through what you’re feeling, even if it might feel like you’re complaining. Odds are, your partner would rather you be upfront than conceal your pain.
  1. Ask for help when you need it. My superhero tendencies kick in and I think I can do it all. Sometimes you simply cannot. Maintaining open dialogue and asking for help is crucial. The reality is, a relationship is between two people, so ask them for help when you freakin’ need it.
  1. Give yourself some extra love. Dealing with a chronic illness is work in itself, and if you give all of your love to someone else, you may find yourself feeling depleted. Remember to always check in with yourself and your needs, because at the end of the day, your health is a priority. There are many ways to do this, from taking a bubble bath, to going to a yoga class, to treating yourself to something special.

Loving someone while battling chronic illness isn’t always going to be easy, but in my opinion, it is beyond worthwhile. It takes time to understand your needs, especially in the context of love. Be patient with yourself, and your partner. Every relationship is intrinsically unique and it takes time to figure out what works best for you. To love, or not to love: that is the question. I say love.

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