We can remind ourselves on an endless loop that a chronic illness changes the person we once were. They tell us that's okay, that all the bitter and anger will eventually go away and in its place will be the one to guide us through this new reality.
But here's the thing about being forced through a transformation – you have to do it alone but everyone you love must adjust as well. Expecting them to be able to is the first mistake. The old you will fade into the background, but can never be forgotten, and even though it shouldn't, it'll be all there is to blame for why those who love you the most will leave you. And you have to realize it's not your fault or their fault because they aren't leaving the person they know and love. They've just gone looking for that person, the one who no longer exists.
Each illness has its own blame. Your romantic relationship will reveal most of these faults. When you have Celiac Disease as sensitive as I do, it demands that everything be approached with sterile preparation. Every touch that is tainted with gluten is laced with poison. Every act meant to be done in love becomes a weapon of destruction on the body.
Gone is the spontaneity that every relationship requires to the be the one that lasts. Not only are you forced to find a new dynamic, you must do this as someone you don't know yet, someone you discover bits and pieces of each day. The strains that start to come with any physical connection create barriers with each and every attempt. The simple act of holding my boyfriend's hand is now preceded with hesitation on both parts.
"Shit, wait, I didn't wash my hands and I just ate pizza."
"Hold up, what have you touched recenty?"
All it takes is the brief contact with gluten to bring an angry, itchy rash across my skin. Kisses only come after he's thoroughly brushed his teeth and washed his face – god forbid he's growing a beard. Not only will my skin break out, but whatever traces of gluten find its way from his face or mouth into my own will cause the super sexy symptoms of bloating, puking, and the trots. Unless this is how all kisses end?
Only if you have Celiac Disease.
Sex and Celiac Disease. This is when interrogation counts as foreplay and the only way I can be truly satisfied is if my mental checklist has been marked off. As much fun as this comes across, I can assure you that questioning your boyfriend's every move and touch until he answers you in a tone that proves he's cleansed every pore of potential poison kills the mood each and every single time. Then you add in the times you ended up sick, no matter how thorough he was, and now he's hesitant to do anything.
This is when you start feeling helpless. And trapped. And lost. And distant. An unsure. You are no longer equal partners working together through life. One of you has unfairly become the patient that unintentionally makes the other the caregiver. These are not the roles you signed up for and when either of you feels bitter, it's natural. Unfortunately, your natural reactions to these feelings is what will drive the two of you apart. Some of us will make it longer than others, but most of us won't make it at all. The only certainty that comes with a chronic illness is the uncertainty. And this we must learn after discovering who we are now - the ones who are loved from afar.