Living with autoimmune disease is a non-negotiable journey one sets out on for life. Of course, not without taking their cat, boyfriend/girlfriend, some friends, family members, and coworkers in tow. Sometimes the person that autoimmune disease has the greatest impact on is not the sufferer themself, but their significant other. If you’re along for the ride of an autoimmune disease, this article takes a look at what it’s like for those loving someone with the condition, discussing ways to improve upon supporting your loved one, as well as what you can expect in return from them. Happy Valentine’s Day, Pulpies! We’re celebrating you and your love, so here goes.
By following these four guidelines, we’re confident that you and your autoimmune loved one will build an even deeper love this holiday:
1.Understand that their condition is very real: There’s nothing more stressful than feeling like your transparency (regarding your condition) is resulting in judgment and a boy-who-cried-wolf theory about you. While it’s difficult listening to complaints or sensing their discomfort, there’s a difference between addressing a “woe is me” attitude your significant other oozes and shrugging off their negativity as a character trait. The plethora of “experts” in our culture, claiming that they can cure autoimmune disease in a few weeks, or that it’s a creation of the mind, don’t help this situation. But, just remember this is the same culture that sells false tabloids and energy drinks that cause heart attacks. Information–particularly regarding healthcare– must be taken with a grain of salt.
2. Realize your limitations: It’s important to realize what you can and cannot do to help your significant other. While you cannot control their arthritis or hashimoto’s thyroiditis, you can help them with little things just like you would for a partner without autoimmune disease. There will be times when you’ll both feel powerless to your partner’s physiology, but remember that your emotional support is worth gold to them. Don’t be hesitant to ask your partner to tell you what they need. According to Everyday Health, reaching out to loved ones is important in case of emergencies. But, it also helps reduce stress and keep you on track¹. For example, my friend Julia’s fiancé Dave has type 1 diabetes and he needs to nap when he wakes up in the morning as well as on his lunch break. Julia would like to wake up at the same time and talk during their breakfast and their lunch breaks. But, she plans accordingly, preparing his breakfast for him and leaving dinner as their together time. If your partner won’t tell you what they need, try to sense it. Of course there are those stubborn individuals who, in an effort to maintain dignity, will refuse all assistance. However, often times these folks will not protest when you help them anyway. Don’t make a big production out of your assistance, and they’ll silently thank you stop by the pharmacy after work to pick up their prescription, or take the garbage out for them because you know they’re having joint pain.
3. Know How You Can Help: Keep them on the path to good health. This includes preparing healthy foods when you cook for them, and steering them back on the course when they get stuck in a junk food rut. Remember not to guilt trip them into a late-night Dexter marathon, because a full night’s sleep is the perfect foundation for balanced immunity. You might also have to readjust your schedule, fitting in more regular meal breaks rather than going all day on a granola bar. Trips out will also require that you plan ahead and pack healthy snacks. But, your blood sugar will also thank you for eating more regularly.
4.Value your love one: If there’s one thing you learn from being close to someone with autoimmune disease, it’s that that is one tough cookie. They’re perhaps the person you go to when you get dumped, lose your job, or suffer a loss. Because, (generally speaking) people with autoimmune disease develop a greater appreciation for the small things in life than their healthier counterparts. According to this NY Times Blog post, “Losing one sense can cause the brain to become rewired”². Perhaps this is true of losing say, the ability to regulate blood sugar, as well. One thing is for sure. Those with autoimmune disease (whether they like it or not) have certainly developed more sophisticated coping mechanisms as a result of their personal triumph over disease.
Ideally, a mate should be able to support you when you’re struggling and exhilarate your everyday existence. Autoimmunies can provide both, feeding your highs and diminishing your lows, while your run-of-the-mill person who hasn’t had to nurture their body and build internal discipline might not be so sensitive to your life experience. And, it goes both ways–they’ll need you during a bad episode. But, when the going gets tough, remember how special they are because of their disease. Helping your loved one stay healthy and balanced could consequently increase your own health as you begin to alter your own bad habits.
Kaitlyn Bader-Autoimmune Ally
Photo Courtesy of: U.S. National Archives’ Still Picture Unit. “Constitution Beach – Within Sight and Sound of Logan Airport’s Takeoff Runway 22r 07/1973″ Photographer: Manheim, Michael Philip, 1940-. U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-5980.