To those who have a chronic illness and think you are undateable:
My brother recently asked me whether or not I have a Tinder profile yet. I knew that part of him was joking, but I also knew part of him was curious about when I would start the dating game again. A few months ago, my boyfriend of five years moved out and I’ve had to readjust to being single. This time, however, I am single with a chronic illness.
Sometimes I feel like it might be easier if my illness was more obvious. On the outside, I look like a normal, healthy 24-year-old. But after being diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS, what I look like on the outside no longer reflects how I feel on the inside. POTS is so cruel because it’s symptoms are invisible, which makes it difficult for people to empathize with you as your body fights what feels like a losing battle while you sport a good face. Anyone with a chronic illness, especially one that isn’t obvious to an outsider, understands the “fake it ‘till you make it” phrase on an extremely personal level.
Because of this, I sometimes feel as if dating someone without disclosing my disability would be like false advertising. At the same time, I know that nobody is perfect, everyone has their flaws, and those imperfections don’t need to be our defining factors. I can just be Heidi, the cook, puzzle master, and writer who just so happens also to have POTS. Not just that girl who can’t stand for more than 10 minutes.
You may be reading this letter and think that you have more problems than me. You may be housebound or struggling with social anxiety to an extent that dating seems impossible. Despite these concerns, I know that each of you who are reading this has the potential to find love in your lives because if there is any lesson I’ve learned in my life, it is that you can find love in even the most unlikely of situations.
There is someone out there who won’t be paralyzed by your illness– someone who will make you laugh when you have to crawl to the bathroom. Someone who will put the effort into overcoming the obstacles your illness places before you to make a relationship work. But that someone doesn’t always appear out of thin air and it does require some effort.
Just thinking about planning a first date could make anyone with a chronic illness anxious. My awkward, nervous self could easily have a heart rate of 160 BPM+ during the entire date. While he would be nervous trying to impress me, I would be nervous trying to keep my vision from blacking out. My trips to the bathroom wouldn’t be to fix my makeup, but rather to down a billion salt pills to lower my heart rate.
You may have been in a similar situation and thought it would be best just to stay single. I would argue that part of our frustration in dating with a chronic illness comes from a misinterpretation of dating itself. We put so much stress in finding the perfect one, our Mr. McDreamy, it’s no wonder dating seems impossible at times! We shouldn’t be dating to find that person who will swoop in, complete our lives, and make our illness blend into the romance like a Nicholas Sparks movie. We don’t need that partner to make us whole, because despite being sick, we are not damaged in the first place.
When you are up at 4 A.M. with insomnia, when you have a pain flare, or when you have an illness that can bring you to the floor in seconds, the best person for you is yourself. You have been there for yourself through all the good and the bad moments. It is impossible to find a partner who will be there with you every single second of the journey, but you already have for yourself. And that fact alone makes you an incredibly strong person. So don’t believe for one second that you are damaged goods.
Two attributes I know for certain we all possess are perseverance and resilience. We have all hit a rock bottom lower than many others will ever experience in their lifetime and we have made it through. So dating? It may be difficult and exhausting for some of us, but in the end, we are better prepared for this challenge than many.
I believe that Pooh Bear has had it right from the very beginning: “there is something you must always remember: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
So, if you have read this letter and have a renewed energy and hope that someone out there in the universe is still waiting to find a person like you, here are some tips to finding them:
- Join some Meetup groups. I truly believe that we find what we are looking for if we aren’t trying so hard. Maybe your game on Bumble and Tinder is great, but perhaps you are getting worn out from the “go-to” modern dating apps. Try just expanding your friend group in general and connecting with others through some shared interest groups– you may be surprised at what happens!
- Join a church/faith community. I am not religious myself, but I find that there are many welcoming groups within faith-based organizations.
- Look for online forums related to your chronic illness. If you are looking for someone who shares the same chronic illness as you, you may find online forums or groups in your area for that purpose.
- Focus on self-care. As I always say, self-care is the best care. If we cannot put ourselves first and take care of ourselves to the best of our abilities, how can we hold space for others? You are your best friend. If you don’t believe that for yourself quite yet, resources such as pastoral counseling, therapy, journaling, or even finishing some of your passion projects are good starting points.
- Explore Lemonayde! The new dating app made for people with chronic illness. I was contacted by Lemonayde and the story about why it was created actually inspired me to write this article. It just launched a few weeks ago, so I thought I would mention it in more detail. It is a lot like Bumble or Twitter, but each person has the opportunity to mention which chronic illnesses they have as part of their profile.
I believe that this is an amazing idea because it takes out the anxiety of hoping someone will understand what it’s like to live with hardship in ways similar to us. Just because you have a chronic illness by no means you should date someone who does, but if you are feeling anxious about dating, perhaps starting the journey with someone who understands that anxiety is a great place to start!
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