I take my last finals for the semester in the morning. I’ve promised myself that I’m going to start writing a lot more over the break. I also had a friend tell me recently how much my posts have meant to her. All to more reason to keep on writing…
The other night I watched Love & Other Drugs for the first time in a while. I love that movie, but it brings up such mixed feelings for me. I can connect so wholly with the main female character, Maggie, who has early-onset Parkinson’s. Jamie is so in love with her, but she holds him at such a distance out of fear that he’ll leave as soon as she lets him get close. When she finally relaxes and drops her walls to let him in, he realizes the difficulty of loving someone with a chronic illness and does leave. Now, in the movie, he of course comes back and tells her how much he needs her, but I’m inclined to believe that real life doesn’t typically work that way.
Love is tough no matter who are or what difficulties you face. Staying with one person, living with that person day in and day out, working together through trials and making compromises: it’s a feat that should be lauded by all. And often after decades of being together, one might fall ill while the other must step up. But this is after having built that foundation and worked through so much. It’s different when you know at a young age that things will not be easy.
Regardless of the difficulties from the past four years in the aftermath of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and then the continuing eye troubles, I also have lupus. The reason I was on the medication that gave me SJS was because the arthritic symptoms had become so debilitating that I could barely lift a glass of water. I planned my mornings so that I would only have to climb down the stairs once, and I dropped my dance classes for an entire quarter.
Since the hospital, I have been on so many drugs that it’s hard to know whether or not those symptoms will be there the second I’m off them. The few times I have weaned down, my joints haven’t been happy. I already know it’s a battle I will be wary of, if not actively fighting, the rest of my life. As much as I hate to admit it, that knowledge is something that weighs on my heart each time I think of starting a new relationship.
When I first meet a guy, I assume he’ll find me hideous because of my scarred right eye and drooping left eyelid, remnants from surgeries that may or may not ever go away (and might heavily depend on finances). When he doesn’t immediately put me into the friend zone, I’m shocked, pleased, and then terrified. I start to wonder if he might use my insecurities to get close to me only to leave (as Hollywood has told us time and again men are wont to do once they’ve gotten what they want physically or realized they never will). Then I wonder if he does stick around for a while, if he’ll be able to stay and be there for me. Finally, as I start to care for him, I wonder most if that’s fair.
My dating history shows time and again that as someone gets close, I push him away. Sometimes it’s because I’m busy (ambitious to a fault) or because I don’t think he likes me anyway so I won’t let myself get hurt so quickly. I end up making a lot of friends this way. But usually I push them away out of fear that when I need someone most he won’t be there or out from the knowledge that I will need him and don’t think it’s fair to ask so much of someone I care so deeply about. I’ve lost a few really wonderful guys that way.
In the past four years, though, my family has taught me that when you love someone, you do stick around and you take care of that person. It’s not about life being fair, it’s about giving to someone who has given you so much in return. It’s been a difficult lesson that I am still struggling to believe. Each time I have to ask for help paying for my prescriptions and every time my father has to take a day from work to fly with me to the specialist in Miami, I feel so incredibly grateful but also very pained at having to burden those I most care for. They tell me how happy they are that they can help, and I know how much joy it brings me to be there for my loved ones in the same way, but I’ve never been able to shake that feeling. Shame, really. Not shame in the way you’ve broken your mother’s favorite vase, but shame in the way you know they have lives and things to do and shouldn’t have to take care of you or ferry you to yet another doctor’s appointment. Shame at needing others.
As a child I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. As soon as it went into remission at the age of four, I had to have surgery to correct something called a pectoral excavatum (where essentially your chest begins caving in). Hospitals have never been foreign to me. Yet what I brought out of those experiences was this overwhelming need to take care of others and never burden them. At the same time, my parents divorced after several years of separation, and somehow I found myself trying to take care of my mother. It’s not difficult to imagine that she was likely a wreck, and I remember her telling me I was all she had.
I grew up doing my best not get in the way, not to be a burden, not to cause anyone any distress. This eggshell dance made its way into my friendships and dating life, which obviously led to a few people here and there taking advantage. Mainly I’ve been able to weed out the jerks, and I have a lovely set of friends. But I still throw up walls when I’m seeing a new guy. I still assume he’s going to leave even when he says he’ll stay. And I still worry that I should leave and let him live a better life without me when he does stay. So eventually I do leave and fulfill the prophecy myself.
Love is a tricky thing. Lasting relationships, however, are a work of art. I guess maybe I should try to see the beauty in Picasso for once.