I’ve heard the stories, and I’m sure some of you have as well. Every now and then, someone in one of my Facebook support groups will post the news that her significant other is leaving because he or she can’t deal with her chronic illness. Sometimes this is a breakup; other times it means divorce.
No matter how big or small the breakup, this is a tragedy that plays out too often in the world today. It makes me sad. It makes me mad. It makes me wish I could do something to help. To make people realize that individuals with chronic illness need even more support and love from the people around them because of illness-imposed limitations on their lives.
Thankfully, my own accumulation of chronic illnesses over the past several years has led to the relationship between my husband and I becoming stronger and more full of love than I ever thought possible.
In sickness and in health. These words have taken on a very real meaning in our marriage. But for my husband David, being a caregiver is so ingrained in who he is that even though caring for me has almost become a full-time job (or at the very least, it seems like it sometimes), he says if he couldn’t care for me, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself.
Cooking is another thing David loves to do. While cooking is a stress-reliever for him, it has me throwing up my hands and storming out of the kitchen. Therefore, he is the house cook. So when I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, it was a huge change for him as well as for me. He needed to figure out a way to cook good, gluten free food that I would eat (I tend to be very picky, but I’ve eased up a bit since my diagnosis.) Sometimes this resulted in surprisingly good food. Other times a major disaster would ensue, so I’d end up eating cereal for dinner. But even then, he would always ask if there was something else he could make me instead. Over the past four years, David has taught himself the subtle nuances of gluten free cooking. And it’s all for me. He doesn’t have to eat gluten free. But when we’re home, he does 99% of the time in order to keep me safe. He doesn’t have to do that. He could have just thrown up his hands at my diagnosis and said, “You’re on your own.” But he didn’t. He said, “We’re in this together.”
When I was diagnosed with endometriosis in spring 2014, it was a whole new ballgame. I was in constant, gut wrenching pain, and there was nothing David could do to fix it. He would lie in bed with me holding my hand as I cried until my pain meds kicked in and I was able to get enough relief to be able to sleep. After my first surgery failed, he supported my decision to seek a second opinion at the Center for Endometriosis Care in Atlanta, where I later had a successful excision surgery in October 2014. His support was monumental in my recovery, as it was a long and painful time. I don’t know what else to say except that he was just there whenever I needed him to be. He wasn’t bitter or complaining when there were things I couldn’t do myself; if I needed something to be done that was a task I usually did, such as laundry, he would just say, “Ok, just tell me how to do it.”
Infertility is something that affects 1 in 8 couples. We never thought it was going to happen to us, but statistically, it has to happen to someone, and we were the someones. I’ve been super emotional throughout the whole three years it’s been since we started trying. I don’t really think it hit home for David until three cycles of Clomid failed last fall. I was the one having to endure the mood swings, the angry outbursts, and the vision disturbances, but he had to deal with me acting that way. Yet despite everything, he never placed blame on me even though it was my body that wasn’t working the way it’s supposed to. He repeatedly reiterated to me his firm belief that we will have a baby when the Lord says we will. I believe this too, and we are continuing to work through this trial together. Through the infertility, we have renewed our faith in the Lord and continue to seek Him and trust Him in everything.
*Trigger warnings for depression and self harm in the following paragraphs. Please stop reading now if you have these triggers.*
Out of our infertility struggles rose major depressive disorder, which I was diagnosed with at the close of 2015. I was unable to cope with the repeated failures of a medication that was supposed to be helping me get pregnant, in addition to working in a children’s hospital and being surrounded by pregnant coworkers. I began self harming with a box cutter. The next day, I went to the walk-in employee behavioral health clinic at work, accompanied by David. I cried for nearly an hour as I told the therapist everything that had been going on and how I knew I needed help. I was started on an antidepressant, which has helped a little over the past nine months, although I’ve just done a dose increase. Whenever I fall into one of my depressive episodes, David always does his best to try to distract me with things to get my mind off the bad feelings inside my head. It’s not always successful, but he tries, and that’s what matters.
Our most recent challenge was the diagnosis of a benign brain tumor called a prolactinoma in March 2016. I had been having severe migraines in the months leading up to the diagnosis, causing me to miss weeks of work, which caused additional stress and made me sink further into depression, where my self harming became worse. I had strict instructions from David to call him at work if I felt the urge to self harm, and sometimes he was able to talk me out of it. Other times, no amount of talking could stop me. The brain tumor diagnosis actually helped my mental status for awhile, because there was an answer to my pain. But the medications that were supposed to shrink the tumor made me almost worse off than I had been before the diagnosis. Since I was unable to tolerate the medications, my next option was brain surgery, which I had three weeks ago. Since I’m under a lot of restrictions during my recovery, David has been helping me whenever he can with the housework. He’s made me whatever foods I feel like eating, since my senses of taste and smell were affected for awhile.
But it’s not just David who has been my knight in shining armor. I may be on disability, but David still has to work full time. When I was unable to drive due to the symptoms from my brain tumor, my dad drove four hours to our house to get me to my day of pre-op appointments at the hospital, then drove back home that night. My in-laws, who live a bit closer, have made offers to drive up to take me to any appointments if need be. My mom just spent the better part of a week here to help me with things and take me to a doctor’s appointment while David was working 10-hour shifts all week.
I think what I’m trying to say is that chronic illness can bring out the worst in people, made obvious by those who abandon their loved ones in their times of greatest need. But it can also bring out the best in people. David has always been loving, but our relationship has reached a new level of love that it hadn’t had before all this happened. And we know we are lucky to have a tremendously supportive family. Chronic illness has taught me a lot about who I am and what I am capable of. But it has also showed me the greatest form of love on this earth, short of the love of Christ Himself. And I am forever grateful for that lesson.