• Sunday, 18 March 2018

    In Sickness and in Health

    When I got married, I was four months away from my first proper diagnosis of colitis, two years and ten months later, I had a second one of fibromyalgia.

    Both of these illnesses are chronic, life altering and exhausting. And whilst my husband signed on for 'in sickness and health' he could never have predicted that the symptoms and complications I were having would become something he would have to deal with for quite literally the rest of his life.

    I resent writing this post in some ways, there is too much focus on the romanticisation of 'loving a broken person.' How often do we see interviews or stories of men who are brave enough to date a girl with depression? Or parents of a child with complicated health issues? We have films and TV shows with the main plot being the ups and downs of relationships with 'baggage.' I understand these are hard positions to be in, that come with complicated, unique situations, but this is what it is like to love a human. When you sign on to be a parent, you are signing on for whatever happens to that child to be yours to deal with. When you commit to a relationship, you commit to future complications that you cannot foresee. Whilst I understand it's hard to care for the sick, I think it's probably harder to be the sick.
    I've digressed already, I am not writing this to villanise my husband or anyone else who cares for me. In fact, I am here to celebrate them. They have been the hands holding me up, the place I come to to rest, the armour that I wear. Lots of religious imagery here, Sunday school since birth will do that to you.

    Anyone who's been in a long term relationship, particularly one that involves a shared domestic dwelling, will tell you that your conversations often become repetitive. I was preprared for this, we've been together nearly seven years, married for four, some stereotypes exist for a reason. Before we got our kittens, we talked daily of how we wanted to own them. Now we have them we converse daily on how big they're getting and how cute they are. Which is probably what parents do, I do not know and I do not wish to know for quite some time.

    We talk about food, money and work daily, the essentials of life that take up far too much time. We disagree on who does the most housework regularly. We talk about our plans for the weekend and often settle on staying in bed for most of the day. We discuss my ASOS habit and the next tech purchase he wants to make. We swap insights on the books we're reading, the podcasts we're listening to and which characters we really wish would hurry up and get together. We share music and I tell him repeatedly that his music taste hasn't changed since 2006, he tells me I'm awfully snobby for a girl with no musical talent. We talk politics and our hatred over the current government, I cry regularly for the injustice and then we discuss our very different reactions to current affairs and whether or not that's a gendered thing, or just who we are as individuals. We swap Harry Potter fan theories and trivia and then debate on whether or not we're going to see the new Fantastic Beasts film and if we can justify it with the casting of Depp. From what I can tell, this is all quite usual stuff.
    But every single day we talk of my health. He asks me how I am and I am honest. He hears descriptions of my skin feeling like it's on fire, how long I spent in the bathroom that day, how it hurts to walk sometimes, the brain fog that comes with all of this that embarrasses me regularly, the anxiety I have regarding travel and where the next bathroom is, when my next hospital visit is, whether or not I fainted at my last blood test, if I need more sleep today than usual, what I think I should be eating that day, if I think my current treatment is working and how much blood I've lost that day. And yet he still thinks I'm sexy, for those of you that are curious!

    It affects his daily life a lot. It is the reason that he is most often the cook, it is the reason that we don't go out as much as most people our age do (thank God he's an introvert too, if there's one group of people that have my sympathy, it's extroverted chronically ill people), it is the reason why yesterday when he got home from a week in Switzerland, he found the house messy, the fridge bare and me in pyjamas. And I feel sad and shameful about all of this, but shame is a useless emotion anyway. He is a trooper and to quote Russell Brand, he deserves a medal, or a holiday or at least a cuddle from someone.

    When people say 'don't let your illness define you' I want to answer 'But it does.' I am chronically ill the same way I am a gin drinker, a theatre lover or a Labour party member. These are all parts of who I am and all things I talk about regularly with friends, family, colleagues and my twitter followers. They're often part of the reason that relationships with these people started. When people say 'don't let your illness define you' what they really mean is 'stop talking about it, it's making me uncomfortable.'

    So here's to you, Jay and to all of my friends that listen now and will continue to listen when they've heard the same complaint many times before. The people that know this is part of my life, that adjustments need to be made to accommodate it and that I'm still going to need to cry about it three years in. You are all the loves of my life and I'm eternally grateful for you.

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