Whether you have an autoimmune disease or not, being single and navigating the dating world can be challenging. Trying to find someone who vibes with your interests and values, who will be there to support you through the ups and downs of life, and who will love you even on your worsts days isn't always easy. Unfortunately, many of the difficulties of finding the right match are magnified when you have a chronic illness, especially when your partner is living that #blessed non-chronic illness life.
Lucky for you, my love life, albeit a ghost town at the moment, is anything but boring, and I have had enough experiences dating with chronic illnesses to hopefully shed some light on this topic.
*DISCLAIMER* Admittedly, I don't always date the best people, or at least the best people for me. Even before I got sick, I didn't know how to pick 'em, and that's something that I'm working on. As such, I don't want to paint all non-chronic illness partners as demons or garbage cans, because I see plenty of people who have chronic illnesses in happy, committed, and supportive relationships, and that gives me hope :)
When Do You Tell Them You Have A Chronic Illness?
Well, if you're me, you'll tell them up front because I don't hide who I am or what my health situation is for anyone anymore. Granted, I don't divulge every single facet and symptom of all of my illnesses until I feel like I've earned the person's trust, otherwise they'd be running for the hills.
Ultimately, it's up to you to figure out when you think it's the right time to tell your love interest about your illnesses and how much you want to divulge. And I COMPLETELY understand the fear behind sharing this personal information with someone. I've asked myself "What if they'll think I'm a freak?" "What if they won't love me anymore?" and "What if they leave me on the spot?" before opening up. But after someone bounced on me mostly for health-related issues, a lot of people helped me check myself before I wrecked myself.
Look at it this way, if someone isn't going to accept you for you, meaning EVERYTHING that comes with you, including your illnesses, and love every facet of you, then that person isn't worth your time. If they look at your illnesses as a burden or have little to no compassion for your well being, then do you really want to be with that person? The answer should hopefully be a loud and roaring "NO!" but please know that as I give this advice I'm also trying to follow it myself. It isn't easy <3
Where Do You Go On A Date When You Have A Restrictive Diet?
One challenge, at least at the beginning of a relationship, is picking a place to go on a date. I literally cannot eat out anywhere, and while I do drink tea and tequila, I prefer to not drink a lot of either on a regular basis. So, finding a place to go on a date can be hard when someone is hard-wired into thinking you MUST go out to get drinks and food on dates.
Thankfully, I am able-bodied enough to do different things and I have a lot of interests, so here's a list of date ideas that don't revolve around the same chicken entree and bottle of wine for the 700th time:
Explaining Your Illnesses Without Overwhelming Your Partner
For people who are worth your time and energy, I recommend explaining what your bad days look like when you're having a good day and aren't feeling vulnerable. Obviously, it's impossible for the other person to *fully* understand what you're going through, but even if they understand somewhat, it should make for a better and more supportive relationship.
For example, I've explained what depression and panic attacks look like for me; why I can't eat certain food; why it's difficult for me to sleep over at someone's place because of my sleep issues; why sometimes I seem completely "normal" one day and then the next day my health has bottomed out; why I get burnt out in high-sensory environments; and the list goes on.
But, you might also want to ask your partner how they best receive information (some people prefer verbal to text and vice versa), whether they have any questions, or how they're feeling. It's a partnership, remember?
How To Recognize Your Partner Isn't Worth Your Time
Point blank: Some people just aren't equipped to handle someone else's health crisis, or even a health blip (yet somehow these are the same people who think they're going to die of a head cold?). Either they lack the empathy and don't have a nurturing bone in their body, or perhaps they feel like this isn't what they signed up for. I've been with people who channeled both of these attitudes, and it wasn't easy.
Here are some red flags related to my illnesses that I wish I would have caught earlier:
To close on a positive note, I think that all of my chronically ill brothers and sisters are worthy of all the love the world has to offer, romantic or not. That being said, you can find me turning my love inward for the time being until I find someone who is able to handle everything I bring to the table: sweet potatoes, sunflower butter, and a whole lotta beets ;)
Upon looking back at my medical history from birth, I now realize I wasn’t the healthiest child and teenager, but my health didn’t fully bottom out until May of 2012. I had a copper intrauterine device (IUD), which is called the Paragard, put in a month before, and unbeknownst to me I was suffering from copper toxicity, and quite severely at that. My mental and physical health quickly deteriorated and I started to lose my quality of life at 22. Thankfully, I met with a doctor who told me to get the IUD out and helped me start healing from the copper toxicity, but little did I know that my journey to restoring my health was just beginning.
Diagnoses Galore, But Little Improvement
The year after getting my IUD removed was full of doctor’s appointments, blood work, elimination diets, trying new medications and supplements, weaning off medications, and constantly researching to find out what was wrong with me.
Aside from heavy metal poisoning, the first diagnosis I received after my IUD debacle was Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome due to my hormones being out of whack and my irregular menstrual cycle. I then started working with an endocrinologist while I was in graduate school from 2013-2015 and I was formally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s (hypothyroidism in its autoimmune form), adrenal fatigue, and had concrete blood work to show my hormonal imbalances.
After incorporating more elimination diets, lifestyle changes, and supplements to address my newfound diagnoses, I started to feel better, but nowhere near 100%. A year or so later, I sought genetic testing through 23&me and my results showed that I have genetic mutations that can affect methylation and detox pathways, so I then went down the rabbit hole with all the research that surrounds methylation, with little to no luck.
Eventually, I saw relief from eating the autoimmune paleo diet and sticking to it, but a year later I started to erupt with histamine intolerance issues. I began working with an integrative nutritionist who diagnosed me with leaky gut, histamine intolerance, pyroluria, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, candida, and I still had some heavy metal issues to sort out.
At this point in time, I had racked up a number of diagnoses, and while each diagnosis and implemented plan of action helped, I never truly felt like I was making solid progress. I kept having to remove food from my diet (I currently can only tolerate around 15 things), my digestive system and everything related to digestion was giving me trouble, and my mental health was still unstable.
Another Diagnosis, But This Time It Was Different
One night in my apartment, I stupidly put oil of oregano down my ear to try to fight an ear ache (NOTE: PLEASE DO NOT EVER DO THIS! It was the worst pain I’ve been in and I used to play rugby and I’ve been punched in the nose before haha :)). The ear ache went away, but the health crisis that followed a few days later and stuck around for over a month was the worst I have felt in my life.
I didn’t know I had Lyme at the time, and if I did, I would have known that oil of oregano causes Lyme bacteria, otherwise known as Borrelia burgdorferi, to die at alarming rates. This can cause a Herxheimer reaction, which is when your body is overloaded with toxins due to bacteria die-off. For me, my system was already overloaded with all sorts of bacteria and other toxins, that the die-off created what I like to call the worst traffic jam ever. Similar to my health crisis with the copper IUD, my mental and physical health quickly deteriorated.
Yet, I kept seeing Lyme disease come up in my research, and at this point I had years of conducting health research and a master’s degree focused on health communication under my belt. I ended up taking a test created by Dr. Horowitz, a leading doctor in all things Lyme, to see if you should get tested for Lyme. My numbers were through the roof and I immediately started trying to find a Lyme literate doctor (general practitioners are usually very misinformed regarding diagnosing and treating lyme, FYI) to help me.
The day of my appointment came, and the doctor confirmed my belief that I had Lyme based on my symptoms and my growing up in New York and attending college in the Hudson Valley, which is wrought with Lyme disease and ticks. During the appointment, he gave me a script for bloodwork to test for Lyme through a lab called IGenex and I completed it ASAP. A few weeks later, my test results came back and I was formally diagnosed with Lyme disease, even by CDC’s measures.
Who Thought A Diagnosis Could Make Me So Happy
After years of searching for the first domino to cause all of my health issues I finally found it: Lyme disease. I remember running around my apartment and dancing when I realized that I finally knew what I needed to address to truly heal. And while I’m still trying to forgive myself for not coming to the conclusion that I had Lyme sooner, I’m glad I caught it sooner rather than later.
Now, I can look back on both and childhood and young adulthood and write off a lot of symptoms and mental oddities to Lyme: intense chronic pain, stiff neck, brain fog, short term memory loss, neuropathy, muscle loss, hormonal issues, painful cystic acne, fatigue, hair loss, bladder issues, major stomach issues, extreme heart palpitations, joint pain, cold extremities, night sweats, tinnitus, difficulty reading, anxiety, depression, OCD, rage, insomnia, alcohol sensitivity, and muscle loss, among others.
The chronic pain I experienced in grad school, which I wrote off as being hunched over at a desk reading, researching, or writing, could now be attributed to Lyme. My nearly paralyzing anxiety, depression, and mood imbalances I suffered through during my entire young adulthood were not because I was crazy, but from Lyme. My stomach being a war zone wasn’t just because I had “leaky gut,” but because of Lyme.
Even though I have no idea when I contracted Lyme--I suspect it was at a young age since many of my issues started as a child--I now know that I am addressing the main factor of my health issues. I am certain that my energy is no longer being wasted trying to play whack-a-mole with a slew of diagnoses and symptoms. This diagnosis, while daunting, isolating, and very challenging at times, has helped me believe that I can heal, I will heal, and I am healing.