Many years ago, I started looking at all relationships as a dance. When asking a new partner to dance, or being asked to dance by someone for the first time, it is always awkward at first. Will we step on each other’s toes? Who takes the lead? After the first dance ends, will there be more dances and will we become a pair admired by all?
One of the toughest parts in the Web of Life is that of family and friends – relationships. But for me it was one of the weakest parts of my web.
No matter where you are in processing the truth that you or a loved one must live with a chronic illness, accepting the diagnosis and living more fully is only possible when you have supportive relationships.
When first diagnosed all those years ago, I rarely talked about my illness with anyone. My colleagues knew I had an illness but I never really discussed it with my superiors as I believe they only cared about productivity – not weakness. Friends knew but I again, I did not want to dwell on my sickness when socializing. My mom sometimes joined me for doctor appointments and she learned a few things about me physical limitations. Most of the time, I remained silent.
I was alone, a wallflower who believed only my beloved dogs accepted me for all my flaws. And it was true because I never let anyone else in. My dogs gave me purpose,
comfort, humor, and I thought that was all I needed in life.
That changed when I started the two-step with my husband. We were in Alaska and knew each other barely a week. I told him one Saturday afternoon as we relaxed on the sofa that I had CFS/ME and fibromyaglia. Convinced the relationship wouldn’t go anywhere, I figured why not tell all and be done before it goes further. Imagine my surprise when he didn’t run, didn’t care, didn’t think I of me as damaged goods. How could I not marry this guy!!
The experience of sharing my illness freed me. Now I tell people I have a chronic illness. My illness is not a crutch. It does not define me. It is one aspect of who I am like being Jewish and a Yankee living happily in Texas are also me. I don’t exactly meet people, shake their hand, and say, “Nice to meet you, I’m Laura and I have a chronic illness.” But it there is a reason to share this part of my life, I openly explain that I have an illness. A cautionary note: I do not necessarily recommend full disclosure if potential for discrimination exists. Use your best personal judgment.
Becoming more open and accepting of my illness brought surprising results. Most people don’t care and often, someone knows someone else with an illness. I am not the pariah I feared. People are more understanding than I gave credit. My pets still bring me great joy, comfort, and humor. Even on the worst days, I must take care of them and the dogs insist on a daily walk that helps all of us. Life is much richer now and my dance card now includes wonderful human relationships.
Building trusting relationships is a critical part in weaving and maintaining your Web of Life. Everyone needs a trusting shoulder and this is especially true for sufferers of chronic illness. Daily burdens are sometimes overwhelming and a partner who holds you up and keeps you from falling makes the tough times easier to bear.
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