With Valentines in the air it can leave those of us with chronic conditions feeling self conscious, whether or not we're in a relationship of our own. Maybe you've been left feeling less-than by an ex, maybe you've never had a relationship post-diagnosis, maybe you feel like you don't deserve one, or maybe you're in a loving and brilliant relationship but still struggle with self-esteem. I get it.
There's a lot of messages floating around the internet about relationships that are meant to be empowering, which I understand. There's a lot that tells you you don't need one, you're whole on your own, and you should always remember that. Fine. But there's one message I can't stand, and feel is damaging to a lot of us in many different ways.
Can we please stop telling people they have to love themselves before anyone else will? Everyone has parts of themselves they’re working on, but that doesn’t mean you’re not deserving of love while you’re doing so. You don't have to love every part of yourself in order for someone else to love you.
What about those of us suffering with physical and mental health issues? What about those of us that are struggling to accept them? What about those of us with low self esteem? Are we not worthy of love yet?
Loving yourself is a process, and it’s often up and down. It’s entirely possible that someone can love you during both the ups and the downs of that process. You shouldn't be made to feel that you have to go through the hard stuff alone, and only when you've got yourself together are you deserving of someone's love and attention.
Sometimes I go through phases where I think I’ve accepted my chronic illnesses. During these times I like who I am, I like who I’m becoming. During these times I’m able to focus on the good parts, the parts I’m grateful for. I’m able to focus on the positive qualities my chronic illnesses have brought to my personality. But it’s not like that all the time. Sometimes I go through phases where I cry about it every day. Sometimes I can’t help but think my chronic illnesses make me boring and that they make me rubbish company. Sometimes I worry about their effect on our future, as well as our present.
I don’t love myself during those times. I don’t like the person my chronic illnesses have turned me into. I’m frustrated and sad that I can’t be my full self. I might not love myself during these times but my boyfriend still does. He isn't an absolute saint for doing so, he's simply being kind, understanding and patient. The same way I would be if roles were reversed.
Ryan isn't with me in spite of my chronic illnesses. He's with me because he likes me, the same way I like him. It's as simple as that. Yes, my health plays a large part in my life, and therefore it plays a part in his too. I'm under no assumptions that it doesn't affect him. Of course it does, because he cares about me and my wellbeing. But I'm not a burden because of that, and that's something I must remember. You are not worth less because you are sick.
Sometimes things are difficult yes, and sometimes conditions take their toll. In inter-abled relationships it's important the healthy partner has support in place too. Not because you are a burden, but because they're human, and everyone needs help sometimes. Blame should play no part in it.
I'm not saying it's always easy to support someone, and that it doesn't bear weight. It's difficult when you love someone and have to watch them suffering. It's difficult feeling like you can't make it better, or take it away. It's important everyone feels like they can be honest, and share, as long as blame isn't placed on the individual. We didn't choose to be sick.
We're always told that relationships should be equal and that you should strive for a situation in which this is the case. We're told that solid relationships are built on equal codependency. But not everything is perfectly balanced all the time, and that's okay despite the messages we're being sold. Life just isn't like that, real life isn't like that. If you struggle with chronic illness guilt I'm willing to bet things are more off balance in your head than they are in real life, or from your partner's perspective.
Everyone needs taken care of at some point, in a variety of different ways, whether you're healthy or not. You might need help in a way that your partner does not, but that doesn't mean you don't offer any sort of support back. Just because it's different, doesn't make it less-than. Life is messy, and everyone needs help. Life can involve injury, physical and mental illness, grief, loss and stress. You're allowed to share those parts in the same way you would wonder, laughter and adventure. It's okay.
You are deserving of help, attention, intimacy and love. If that is what you want. Not everyone wants a relationship and that's totally fine. If that is indeed what you want, and not because you've been sold the idea that you don't deserve one. It's also important to note that you don't have to settle just because they "put up" with your health issues. You're not only deserving of a relationship, but a good one.
Relationships aren't always hard because chronic illness is involved. They vary for everyone in the same way all relationships do, but please never think they're inherently "worse" because there's sickness or disability involved. I'm chronically sick, struggle with my self-esteem and have an uncertain future. But I'm in a rock-solid relationship with my best friend, we trust each other more than anyone, and we have a laugh. It can happen.
During times when I'm feeling low, Ryan reassures me the voice in my head is not truthful. He reminds me that actually I am still capable of making him smile and laugh even when I don’t feel like I am. He reminds me that I am worthy. You do not need to reach full self-love in order to be loved. You don’t need to put on a brave face all the time. You can admit that you’re struggling, that you’re finding things hard. You can still be loved regardless.
Let’s stop pushing the idea that no one will love you until you’ve reached a certain point of self acceptance. It’s not only potentially damaging, it’s just not true.