Chronic Illness Burden

I am not a burden because I live with a chronic illness.

I am only human. Just like you. And I am worthy of love — even if someone doesn’t think I am because my life has been stained by illness. These exact fears of being viewed as a burden have crippled me from letting anyone close to my heart.

Six in 10 adults in America live with a chronic disease. One in four lives with a form of arthritis. We are all only human.

A recent advice column shared in the New York Times entitled, “Is it OK to Dump Him Because of His Medical Condition,” suggested to the advice seeker, who is worried about dating a man with Crohn’s disease, that “committing to this person may be committing to a life as a caregiver” and “You don’t owe it to anyone to accept that burden.”

There — in one advice column — I could sum up my entire dating experience over the last five years since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Mind you, this doesn’t just apply to my dating life but also family and friends. My own mother and other family members looked the other way when I became ill because my illness became an inconvenience for them. Shortly after my diagnosis of RA, my mother told me no one would never love me. That was the first time I realized I was marked for life as undesirable by many. (That — and you really can’t choose your family.)

The Loneliness of Dating with Rheumatoid Arthritis

But you can choose your mate. So, what is it like trying to find love when you are chronically ill?

It’s lonely. Bumpy.

But at least when I reveal my invisible illness of rheumatoid arthritis to potential partners, their true colors tend to come out early — and this saves me a lot of time. Research shows loneliness has a pretty severe impact on your health. Living with health issues and dealing with what seems like chronic loneliness, I can attest to those statistics. I do wonder how love and a partner would impact my health.

Revealing My Chronic Illness

How do I go about telling someone about my RA? To be honest, it comes up quickly when I converse with someone new. I mean, I work as a freelance writer and patient advocate so when they ask me what I do for work, my diagnosis usually follows. Once I drop the RA bomb it’s a matter of waiting and seeing how the person responds. I know I could wait until the first or second date to reveal my scarlet A but I’m not about wasting my precious energy on just anyone.

Here’s a sample of the kinds of reactions I get:

  • Some ghost me right away.
  • Some (the curious ones) kill the vibe with questions about how independent I am, how RA affects my sex life, or how bad it is.
  • Some offer bad advice or shame me for taking medication and not having gone vegan to cure my illness.
  • Some pretend to be interested and kind for a bit so they don’t look like a jerk right away.
  • Some (though few) realize I am still human and see me as me, not my chronic illness

It’s been hard to introduce someone in my life consistently since my diagnosis. This is especially because people tend to think that if they can duck out early, they can avoid potentially being my caretaker one day or developing feelings for someone who lives with a disability. It’s kind of like when people see a homeless person begging for money on the street; if you don’t make eye contact, it’s not your problem to deal with.

At the same time, this is making me become more and more closed off and discouraged about finding love. Sometimes you’ll find me ugly-girl crying for a week. I often ask myself why I am torturing myself just to try to find someone who’ll see me for me.

As the Search Goes On

I’ve learned to not take things personally and be grateful that my illness brings out people’s true colors early in the game. I’ve learned to look for someone who’s empathetic, supportive, compassionate, and has a desire to help others in their community or with their career. I am not the only person in the world who lives with chronic pain, so I tend to get along well with others who deal with some type of chronic pain.  More often than not the men who stick around have a mother, sister, grandmother, or friend with arthritis. They tend to not shy away from me because they know chronic illness happens and life still moves on, even with adversity in it.

Living with a disability like rheumatoid arthritis does not make me a burden. It means I am only human, just like you and the next person.

Like a cure for my rheumatoid arthritis, I am clinging onto hope for love, acceptance, and equality.

My fairytale romance would be a man who’s a realist, knows we are only human, and wouldn’t see me as a burden while helping to slip on on my arthritis-friendly slippers.

Want to Get More Involved with Patient Advocacy?

The 50-State Network is the grassroots advocacy arm of CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation, comprised of patients with chronic illness who are trained as health care activists to proactively connect with local, state, and federal health policy stakeholders to share their perspective and influence change. If you want to effect change and make health care more affordable and accessible to patients with chronic illness, learn more here.

Chronic Diseases in America. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Joint Pain and Arthritis. Arthritis. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions. Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging.

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