I have been with my husband since I was 15. We have grown up with each other through school, university, first jobs and into adulthood; but the one thing that he didn’t sign up for was being lumbered with a perpetually sick person. Four years into our relationship, on Valentine’s Day, I was rushed into hospital and diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.

My days can sometimes revolve around my condition – but so do his. From hospital appointments, to days when I’m too unwell to leave my bed and having to constantly deal with the changing lists of diagnoses and medication, it’s not an ideal way to spend your life, even if it is secondhand. It also means that Alfie has seen me in the most physically repulsive states I could possibly inhabit – including hours spent on the toilet, downing MRI liquid in hospital and ugly-crying at the unfairness of it all.

I’ve heard anecdotal horror stories about women with partners who resent their condition and eventually leave them for being unwell or blame their illness for the demise of their relationship. Thankfully, I have never been made to feel less-than by my husband – in all honesty, I think it would be impossible to find a person more caring, kind and selfless.

Being chronically ill has definitely skewed “traditional” gender roles in our household – my husband takes on the lion’s share of the housework for instance. We’ve been on holidays where we were unable to leave the hotel room because my condition flared up. I have definitely thrown more than a few tantrums in his direction when feeling sorry for myself. I have sometimes felt guilty, believing that he deserves more; that he deserves a life that doesn’t involve making constant adjustments for what I can or can’t do. I worry that he shouldn’t have to look after me, and that if he had a relationship with almost anyone else, it would be easier in so many ways. But, over time I have learned to remember that I am worth more than an abstract set of requirements equating to “the right kind of partner”.

I have found that it is important to not wallow for too long; when you’re sick, it is all too easy to descend into self-pity. We tend to take equal responsibility for pulling me out of the depths of despair and preventing my circumstances from becoming a problem for us. We make sure illness does not dictate our relationship, whether that means getting dressed up and going out for dinner, or simply making the effort to watch a TV show together if that’s all I feel up to. We try not to blame each other when my Crohn’s disease feels frustrating, just as we would with life’s other inevitable annoyances.

Every sick woman needs at least one person whose behaviour never veers into condescending pity or refusal to accept reality; who won’t openly wish they could help you get better and instead simply accepts that your pain is a part of who you are. Experiencing all of my sick little life alongside Alfie has shown me that humans are capable of caring completely and unselfishly. One of my biggest fears after my diagnosis was that of being alone; the idea that becoming ill would render me “too much” for some people. But, 11 years later, our relationship is proof that chronic illness does not make you a burden to those you love. It is just another dimension to the bond you share.

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