Relationships and Chronic Illness

Before my husband and I got together, I did for a moment consider if two sick people was a really bad idea. I asked myself, ‘do two wrongs make a right?’. Well technically no they don’t, but on the other hand, being the sick one in a relationship with someone who is well and cannot relate to you is torture, similarly being well and dating someone who is not has got to be pretty grueling. After all, who wants to listen to someone complaining about their health? Don’t we want to feel inspired and invigorated in a relationship, not brought down and dismal. Truth is as we get older illness is a reality, if its not one its the other’s health that will decline, perhaps that’s inevitable.
So how to cope with each others misfortunes without loosing the bond that brought us together? This is where empathy comes into play. Empathy I discovered throughout my life, can be a rare skill to posses. I wonder whether empathy could be the ultimate test of enlightenment, I bet Buddha was an early proponent of empathy.



So what exactly is empathy?

The Oxford English Dictionary says empathy is;
‘The ability to understand and share the feelings of another’
Receiving empathy, for someone with a chronic illness, can be like trying to get blood out of a stone. In part this may be because often chronic illness’s can be invisible and people judge a person by how they look. What people don’t tend to consider is that you don’t see sick people on their bad days, and that the reason why they hide away for such long periods is not that they are not great friends, but that they may be suffering and don’t want to be seen that way, or know how to express it.
You cannot see a bacterial infection such as Lyme D, and its many co-infections. So when you decide that someone does not deserve your concern because they look OK, think again.
I suppose I learned about empathy through experiencing my own health problems but I am genuinely interested in listening to people who are sick, and I want them to know that I understand how they feel. So why is it so hard for many people to do so? Maybe they have never been sick before? Or maybe they feel, for whatever reason, they have a harder time of it than you?
What I discovered is that there is even a competition for empathy, sometimes people you meet feel that they are worse off than you. Maybe they have rarely experienced empathy from others also? Such is the nature of this evasive little life skill. Comparing situations is childlike, without walking in another shoes how can once judge how another is feeling?
As a person with chronic illness’s I had to ‘fake it’ every day. What has given me strength is other peoples stories on forums, when you think you got it bad you always meet or hear someone else who has it equally as tough or tougher.
Perhaps it is the cornerstone of humanity, but it can be a thankless task that can be taken for granted, and so for those who give empathy, I salute you! and those who need empathy, cherish it! Hold it dear, it is a ruby in a mountain of rocks.

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