I can barely remember how things were before illness was the silent third entity in our relationship.
Before being handed the final diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, I honestly believed my partner would get better.
I can’t remember if I thought he just had an infection, some bad bacteria, or was allergic to something, but when the news was dropped, my world suddenly plunged into slow motion. I’d been frantically Googling his symptoms for months, and had a list of unmentionable “worst cases” in my mind; bowel cancer at the top and Crohn’s disease, – a type of inflammatory bowel condition which is lifelong and incurable – being a close second.
My partner, Tom, however, had avoided Google. “I don’t trust internet diagnoses,” he’d say, between vomiting, trips to the bathroom and countless doctors visits to find out what was wrong. So, when the hospital staff came into his room and handed down their finding, I started to cry, the words ‘lifelong’ and ‘incurable’ flashing in my mind. Tom looked at me, cocked his head to one side as all of the colour drained from his face. “Why are you reacting like this?” he asked, confused and scared. “Is it bad? Should I be worried?”
My emotional reaction to my 26 year-old partner’s illness was the first time I’d dropped my exterior of stable, everything-will-be-alright girlfriend and shown the reality of how fucking scared I was for him. The past six months since he’d started to get sick had been hell. Seeing the person I loved in so much pain every day, not being able to help and not knowing what was wrong was torture. I just wanted him to get better.
I remember going into the drug store a few months in and just buying every stomach drug, vitamin, and painkiller they had, quizzing the poor pharmacist on what Tom could and couldn’t take together. I was desperate. The doctors didn’t seem to be doing anything and the surgery to find out what was wrong was still ‘eight to twelve weeks away’. Tom had almost completely stopped eating, scared that anything he ate would trigger his symptoms, and he was rapidly losing weight from his already thin and lanky frame. I got back into my car and cried hysterically for an hour, before wiping my tears and hoping my puffy face disappeared by the time I got home, so he wouldn’t have to see that I was upset. After all, he was the sick one, and I had to be strong for him.
Since that day, I’ve secretly cried, yelled, worried, and freaked out more times than I can count, never really letting him know how I’m feeling, and always for the same reason; he has enough to worry about, and I’m not the sick one.