Chronic Illness & Relationships : Trying to Stay True to Myself

I realise I do tend to divulge from the symptomatic side of this disease and the operations that go with it. I’m coming to realise the long waits in A&E, despite being tedious are actually quite quite insignificant compared to the ways in which this disease affects the way I navigate the world around me. 

I came out of a long term relationship shortly before my colostomy surgery and since then I’ve had a string of ‘not quite boyfriends’. Whilst they’ve all ended rather amicably they have all come to an end rather abruptly after a few brief months and I figured that it was probably time I did some self exploring as to why.

To start at the beginning –  I’m a people pleaser – I always have been. Sometimes when you have a lot going on in your own life, thinking of others is just easier than getting wrapped up in your own issues. When I meet someone I like, the people pleaser in me tries desperately to be perfect, and almost subconsciously I over compensate.

I can trace this back to the days of adding the boy I liked on BBM. Feverish texts are exchanged, each with the addendum, “xxxxxx”. He tells me he hates his dad, and loves The Smiths. The pinnacle of teenage angst and anti-establishment. And that’s it, I drop everything and spend the next 4 hours listening to every sound that has ever have escaped Morrissey’s mouth – and Heaven Knows I’m the Miserable one Now.

And so this saga continues… boy after boy after boy. You like cars? I never miss the F1!You like football? Lets go watch my favourite team together. I was a lost and painfully insecure teenager, but we’ve all done similar in order to be liked. It died off. The older I got the more confident in myself I became and I developed a strong sense of identity, despite occasionally still listening to The Smiths.

More recently, I noticed this old habit creeping back. I almost didn’t realise it at first but in hindsight it’s the reason these relationships were doomed from the start. I was moulding myself to into the die-cast of somebodies dream girl – and why? In a desperate attempt to be so unbelievably perfect that they could feasibly let go of the inescapable downsides of dating someone with a chronic illness.

The first guy I dated loved spontaneity. So I spontaneously hiked 15km with him…two weeks after major abdominal surgery. I caught late-night trains to London at the drop of the hat and planned trips abroad with two days notice. I’m sure some of you reading this think that all sounds lovely, maybe you’d even go as far as to say romantic? The problem is, I’m not really spontaneous. I love organisation, lists, and planning. I search up the restaurant menu and know my order before I even step through the door. I have a Trip Advisor account for fucks sake. If you ever need a weekend break planned I’d love nothing more than to do it for you. Don’t get me wrong, I do occasionally embrace spontaneity, but selfishly it’s usually on my terms. There’s a lot to organise in my life, particularly when it comes to the plethora of medical supplies I need to compile before it can be deemed safe to leave the house. I’d also argue that making plans with someone in advance shows a level of respect and commitment that a last minute ‘I’m bored come over’ text doesn’t and that’s something I like. Sometimes I do like to go somewhere without a plan, but deep down I crave stability because I live a life that often lacks it.

Somewhere in between all of this I start texting a new guy. He’s aloof, a man of few words. I tell him lengthy anecdotes, “cool x” he replies. Our late night FaceTime calls consist of long drawn out silences and quick witted jokes. We never really even graze the surface of who each other are. Suddenly I find myself changing, like a chameleon, into Lolly – the kind of girl that only types in lower case. This Lolly says things like “sounds dreamy baby x” and “when we gunna hang?” – a funny thing to come out of the mouth of a women whose entire professional career is based on her impeccable grammar and love of writing. I don’t text like that, I write paragraphs, tell stories, send voice notes, photos and interact. I’m not aloof, I’m engaging and interested. I also take no enjoyment in shallow conversation, I crave deep and meaningful connection, I love finding out everything that makes a person tick. I want to talk about philosophy, sex, aliens and your fathers alcohol problem. I fall fast, dive deep and love hard. I’ve got no time in my life for ambiguity.

Swiftly, I jump ship to the next boy. He reminds me of driftwood, he doesn’t really know where he’s going, but I cling to him anyway. He wants a cool girl, one that just goes with the flow. He doesn’t do labels. Suddenly, neither do I. It’s great, we’re carefree, open, and honestly we really have a lot of fun. But the months go by and the real me starts to surface. The real me sort of likes labels, sometimes even needs them. I get comfortable, my guard drops, and I voice my concerns. All of a sudden the boy that liked me because I was so casual can’t understand why I’m asking for commitment. Who can blame him? I’ve been masquerading as what he was looking for and now he’s faced with this person standing in front of him that he didn’t bank on being with? It falls apart.

The thing is, we all let our guard down the further a relationship progresses and our little idiosyncrasies peer though, and that is a really wonderful way in which we get to know each other. The problem is I’ve been making up entire personalities, loosing my identity and my core values in an attempt to be accepted despite my disability. I’m so desperately trying to be the version of myself that I think this person wants me to be in the hope they’ll overlook my disability.

I’m not perfect, nobody is, but sometimes I feel like I have a big disadvantage from the start. I do accept my flaws but I struggle with the notion of expecting or allowing another person to do the same. I can’t get my head around it being possible, and when I can, I just feel like I’m dragging them under with me.

I’m not perfect, I don’t want to be perfect, instead I strive to be loved regardless of my flaws. So I’m starting from scratch with no apologies. I’m really trying to stay true to myself this time around and not parade as someone I’m not. Who knows where it’ll end up. So far I lied about liking mushrooms, but other than that I’m doing a pretty good job.

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