This is a heavy topic. Soooo dense. You guys have actually been asking me about this for a long time, and I feel like it’s finally the right time to put it all out there.
Navigating relationships in general with chronic illness is really difficult. I believe that the number one reason why it is so difficult is because people don’t understand. They don’t understand what it’s like to feel bad everyday. They don’t understand what it’s like to be hyper aware of symptoms. They don’t understand how you can feel good one second and then have to cancel plans the next day. They don’t understand the toll that chronic illness takes on one’s mental health. They don’t understand. Noone truly understands unless they have experienced it. That’s the reality. It’s not anyone’s fault. It just is.
For this reason, relationships are hard. When I speak about relationships, I mean – friendships, family, coworkers, and significant others. For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to speak about relationships with friends and significant others because this is what you guys ask me about most.
Let’s start with friendships. This one stings.
This stings because I lost friends when I relapsed. I know I’m not the only one. Most of us have. I learned to be okay with this though because I only want true friends in my life. One of the lessons that became increasingly apparent to me during this time. To read more about the lessons I learned when I relapsed, check out my previous blog on what I learned through suffering. But, if I could go back and tell myself what I know now, I would say this:
“The only thing that matters in life is what is real. Relationships help bring to light what we might not have previously seen. In other words, relationships show us the truth. We learn about love, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, etc. On the other end of the spectrum, we learn about jealousy, dishonesty, discouragement, and anger. These energies are real, palpable, life giving, or energy sucking. When we get sick, like chronically sick, we have to focus our energy on healing. On life giving energy. On what we know to be true. What our intuition confirms for us. So, forget about the people who give life to the energies on the opposite end of the spectrum, the spectrum that sucks your energy, instead of contributing to it.
Make it simple. Make it easy. It really is. Be honest. Never be ashamed to speak your truth. Bind to integrity like it’s a part of your very essence because honesty is all that people will be able to hold onto when they don’t understand. And let go of the relationships that don’t serve you.”
That’s the motto I have learned to live by. It is truly so freeing. Yes, for awhile I felt like I had 3 friends. I felt super lonely, and at times even depressed. But what I came to realize was that I was wasting my time, for so long, with people who operated on the opposite end of the spectrum. The one where they sucked it all out of me. Left me drained, or just even slightly less joyful than I was before. They didn’t fill my cup. And I truly didn’t lose anything by cutting ties with them.
Instead, what I gained was INCREDIBLE.
I held onto my confidence in myself, my healing, my journey. And people were drawn to that. Out of nowhere I started making new friends. Friends who met me at my worst. When I was having panic attacks in the car and they had to pull over. Or when I was out of the emergency room because my gut stopped working for 3 weeks and I had to just lay on their couch while they ate dinner. Or when I was sobbing crying (which happened all the time) on the phone with them at 2am. These are the people who were drawn to me and I to them. We were drawn to each other out of the depths of our energies – life giving, uplifting, kindness, and honesty. The universe has a way of serving you when you take what you want. I encourage you to cut off the relationships that aren’t serving you in this moment. The people that your intuition is telling you are not life giving. Take what you need to heal, and the universe will respond to you accordingly.
In terms of managing the relationships you do have, just remember that nobody is perfect. Because people don’t understand, you’re still going to be criticized. People will talk about you. They will say you’re dramatic, hyper focused, sensitive, whatever, you name it, I’ve heard it. But, you’re made of tough stuff. You have to be. If you have a chronic illness you just are strong. So know that if you’ve kept them in your life, they mean well, but they don’t understand, and they too are flawed. Let some of the comments roll off your back. They might understand one day, and then they will realize. Until then, remember it’s just part of the gig.
I recommend joining some type of support group. Instagram has been an incredible community for me. Just being able to connect with people all over the globe who suffer similarly. It’s really validating. Also, sharing your story is incredibly therapeutic. Whether you write in your journal, a letter to your family, a blog, instagram, facebook post, whatever. Just getting out it there is very helpful. And if you choose to make it public, it helps educate people about what we go through, which is the only way that we will ever get the treatment we need from a medical perspective and social perspective.
Time to move onto the big one- relationships with our significant other.
So let me just start with this- if your relationship with your significant other wasn’t serving you when you were healthy, then it’s not going to serve you in sickness. In order to survive a healthy relationship during chronic illness, you need to be with a partner who loves you and supports you for your soul – your unique energy, the fire that burns inside. If your partner isn’t one of those people, then the following does not apply to you. Remember, you can never truly heal if you have someone who gives life to the energies on the opposite end of the spectrum: jealousy, dishonesty, discouragement, or anger.
If you do have someone who gives life giving energy, who loves or cares for you deeply, then you are blessed. And your relationship has a great chance of surviving your chronic condition. This is because being chronically ill will test the waters for both of you. It will put you through dark times, questioning times, and straight up hopeless times, but as deep as you go, you can always go that much higher, together. Because if you can wear the fire together, you become stronger and so much wiser together. Like everything else in life, you are rewarded for pushing through hard times with so much abundance.
So how do we manage it all?
That is a tough question because there is no “right” answer for everyone. This is because everyone is so intricately different – the way they think, communicate, feel, perceive. So, the best thing you can do is try and focus on 3 life giving energies – 3 energies that are universal truths: love, honesty, and compassion.
Love is real. We all know that. We can’t explain it, why we do the stupid things we do sometimes. Or why we show it when it is not deserved. But we know it’s real. So we can rely on that. In relationships where one person is chronically ill and the other is not, love is the “glue” that binds two people together. With a focus and appreciation for this “glue”, as a chronically ill person, it must be nurtured from our side as much as possible. Wake up everyday grateful for the love you share. Remind your significant other how much you love them, not just with words, but with actions too. Don’t ever lose site of this “glue” when you speak, act, or think. Hold it front and center. When our world seems to be falling apart with all the uncertainty around us, acting in love will help heal us and remind our partner of all the good there is, despite the illness. It’s an anchor, something to hold onto when there’s nothing else. Your partner won’t understand what you’re going through, and they never truly will if they’re not in your shoes. But love overcomes that misunderstanding. That’s the magic in it all.
Yes, it sounds simple. But this is how I live life. The simplest solutions are always the best. If your partner is frustrated, thinks you’re overreacting, is upset that you feel mentally unstable, or can’t deal with the lack of healing, remember that they’re just frustrated the same way as you. Feel the frustration together. Don’t fight it. Use your glue to partner in the fight.
Practical Application: By the way, the situation below is not one I have experienced with my significant other at all, but it is one I have experienced with friendships and the principles are transitive.
Let’s say your partner gets frustrated that you are saying no to plans a month in advance, even though in their mind, you don’t know how you are going to feel yet. But in your mind, you know how you are going to feel. Even if it’s “better” than normal, it’s not good. And even if it is “good”, relative to how you usually feel, you don’t want to waste that extra energy on a night out.
Remember, that for someone without chronic illness, they can’t even fathom the above. How could you know how you are going to feel? You could be better. Try and be more positive. Make an effort. Don’t always shut things down.
You’re at a crossroads here. You can react. Jump onto the defense. That’s our human instinct. And if you are chronically ill, you are already sensitive to having to defend your illness, which I know is unfair, but it’s the reality we live in today, unless you have something more widely recognized and understood (but even then). So what’s the best way forward?
Using the principle above, remembering that you always act with integrity, telling the truth no matter what, act in love. Remember that your partner is just sad and/or frustrated about the situation you are both in, just like you are sad and frustrated. Feel the frustration together. Tell them that you understand how sad it is and reiterate how much you’d like to be able to do these things. Reminding your partner that you understand too is a powerful way of sharing the burden and the fight.
I talked about this previously with friendships, and the same applies for relationships with our significant other. Because it is impossible for your partner to truly understand the situation you are in unless they have been in your shoes, if you don’t have honesty on your side, you don’t have common ground to tether to. In other words, if you are always honest, then your significant other can count on that fact that you mean what you say, because often times, they can’t see it. For me this is really powerful because I struggle with invisible illness. It’s really tough to look “great” but feel like you’re dying on the inside. Oh be validated, that’s all we need.
This is where honesty comes in. Always tell the truth. I actually apply this logic in every situation. I love having honesty on my side. But specifically when you’re sick, if you are always honest, it will help others help you emotionally and physically.
Practical Application: Again, I’m not going to draw on specific situations that have happened between my husband and myself, but I have heard these comments from my friends many times.
This happens a lot, in general, at least to me. I will say I’m too sick to do something: workout with friends, hangout, eat out, drink, whatever. Then, at that very same time that the activity I said no to is going on, I get a burst of energy and do a healing activity like go on a walk, go somewhere outside to chat with a friend, whatever. And then this comes across as deceptive. Why? Because I said I couldn’t do something with someone because I was too sick and then I went off and did something else instead. This is the nature of the game with chronic illness.
There are so many variables at play here. The unpredictability of how we will feel from hour to hour. The actual activity itself. Does it make us anxious? Does it exacerbate symptoms -another thing that people can’t get their minds around – how can going to eat make a symptom worse just because the restaurant is crowded …well trust me it can! Even if I do feel good, it could go south instantly, and I know better than to let that happen during a workout class or happy hour. I have been burned many times before…we all have. This is a tough one. Being told that we are using our illness as an excuse or just straight up lying.
This is the most hurtful one for me, and it also taught me the importance of honesty. While being honest has always always been my thing, these scenarios showed me just how important that quality is. If people don’t understand, which again, they can’t and that is not their fault, then of course they will think that we are being dishonest.
How do we respond? “Just trust me.” Honestly, that is what I’ve learned. Your partner either trusts you or doesn’t. It’s simple. And if they can’t rely on your integrity then it’s time for you to take a look at your track record or take a look at the strength of your relationship. It’s not fair to have to ask your partner to trust you no matter what sometimes, but it’s the way that it is. Accepting that relationships are harder with chronic illness is an important component of having a successful one.
Compassion means – sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. And I think having compassion for yourself and your partner is a really important part of not only having a successful relationship, but also healing. Compassion helps us feel a connection with someone else’s suffering, and it is a very powerful tool that we can tap into. I feel the energy of compassion a lot as a two way street. In other words, when I show it, I often feel that I receive it. I don’t show compassion just so that I receive it back, but these palpable energies are contagious and they inspire without words. That’s what I love about them. They transcend our human experience and bring to light this world that we don’t understand, but we feel.
Why is this important? Because if you bring compassionate energy into your relationship, you will become closer and you will be able to empathize with each other. Have compassion for your partner. Put yourself in their shoes. Being with someone you love who you see suffering everyday. Someone you want to live life with. Someone perhaps different than you used to know. Then have compassion for your body, mind, and spirit. They all feel the same things. Mourning the loss of who you were, wishing that things might be different, feeling it all.
When you bring compassionate energy into your relationship then you cultivate oneness – oneness with your energies and oneness with your partner. It keeps you on the same team, and that my friend, is a win.
Practical Application: Now this one does apply to me…
Let’s just say you are having a bad mental health day. Chronic illness is just as tough on us mentally as it is on us physically. It’s a heavy cross to bare and it can feel really isolating. So let’s just say that we are having a bad day and our emotions are all over the place. We react too quickly, we may lash out in anger or sadness at something small. Noone is immune (unless you live in isolation and never speak to anyone). So what then? Our partner is upset, and understandably so.
Honestly, compassion is my tool to use here. Compassion for my partner. They shouldn’t have to deal with an emotionally charged, unfair reaction, but it’s part of the game. Then I move onto compassionate understanding for myself. Oof- there are lots of crazy imbalances going on. For me, for example, it was severe anxiety caused by hormone imbalances, crazy thyroid problems, SIBO, and Candida. I don’t mean to be like that sometimes, but I’m human. I apologize, reflect, and move on. Then I show a little more love.
It’s just as important to show compassion for yourself as it is to show compassion for your partner.
You’re not alone. There’s a whole community of us dealing with the same struggles, and I think that’s really beautiful. If you’re reading this right now, and you’ve made it this far, then you feel connected with me in some way. In my struggles and triumphs. And I feel connected with you and your struggles and triumphs. Keep up the strength, resilience, and the fight. And remember to bind to the life giving energies – the ones you know to be true. Rest easy in love, honesty, and compassion.