What Diabetes Taught Me About My Marriage

We’ve had an ongoing discussion about body image issues, and wedding, and marriage here at APW. One of the most beautiful posts, A Way To Weigh What You Weigh When You Wed, came from Margaret. She’s back today to talk about a different aspect of our relationship with our bodies: health and chronic illness. I haven’t talked about this at length on APW, is the fact that I have a chronic pain condition. So, every day, when I wake up, my first thought is how I feel. What are the pain levels like, and what can I do about that? And I think Margaret nails this issue with such grace. For me, in some ways, my chronic condition has been a blessing. It’s forced me to be very aware of my body, and my health, and really live in gratitude for the body that I have today. That, and to develop my independence. Because only I can care for my body, and that gives me real responsibility to take care of myself. So, I’m honored to introduce Margaret, talking wisely about an issue that’s close to my heart.

I’ve wrote about my weight and my wedding day for APW, and I was so happy and gratified to see that it helped people.  I mentioned in that post that I hadn’t felt able to devote the time and energy to my eating and exercise habits and that I had come to forgive myself for that.

I wish I could say that the day after my wedding, I said “Well, that’s over with, time to focus on my eating and exercising habits.”  I think I harbored this thought that my wedding day was both a finishing line and a starting pistol.

It wasn’t really like that.

Instead, I had a tough couple of months.  When the light faded and we trudged into winter, I found I was moving less.  Sleeping more.  I was ravenously, constantly hungry despite eating huge amounts of food.   I probably didn’t eat a single vegetable for about four months.  I gained weight.  My husband finally dragged me to the doctor and there it was: type 2 diabetes.

Now here is the point where I feel like a standard narrative kicks in.  It goes like this:  Girl gets disease (in my case, happily, chronic but not immediately life threatening).  Girl leans on Partner for support.  Partner is very supportive/not supportive.  The relationship flourishes/falters.  The end.

It’s been a little different for me.

It’s not that Geoff hasn’t been supportive.  Of course he has.  The first thing I did when I got out of the doctor’s office was send him a single sentence email saying, “I have diabetes.”  Immediately, he wrote back and said “I will do whatever I can to help you.”  And that’s been true.   By no means am I diminishing the amount of time, care, and work Geoff has invested in managing this disease with me.  It’s just that there’s another side of this story for me.

When I was depressed and miserable this winter, I was incredibly dependent on Geoff.   He would run our errands, make dinner, and take care of most of the household chores.  I didn’t like how dependent I had grown, but I didn’t think I could change it either.

I know this probably sounds insane, but I don’t hate the fact that I have diabetes.  I know it is a serious disease but I’ve done more than come to terms with it; I’ve welcomed it.  It has forced me to be more organized, adopt better eating habits, and move more.  Instead of resenting those things, I’ve welcomed them into my life, and the irony is that I’m far healthier now than I was before.

The most surprising upside of my diagnosis is that it’s led me to be more independent.  When I first got the diagnosis, the thing that scared me the most was the work it would create for us.  I thought it would be a crushing, sisyphean chore.  But instead, thanks to getting treated, I found that I had the wherewithal to deal with it without relying so heavily on my husband.

This didn’t happen overnight.  Initially, Geoff had to drag me to the doctor, after begging me to go for months.  He also made sure that I took my medications every day, that I went for my walk, that I ate some vegetables.  But once I started feeling just a little bit better, I found I was able to manage my disease and do so much more.  I started holding my own with all the things that go into taking care of both of us and managing our household.  And I started to bring good cheer and optimism back into our marriage.

Geoff travels often for work, and he was gone when I got the diagnosis.  I was distraught when I first got the news.  (And it’s true that diabetes is not a death sentence, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t upsetting, especially if you believe, as I did at the time, that you somehow deserved to get the disease.)  But slowly, I started feeling better, both physically and mentally.  Once my blood sugar was under control, I had an “oh, that’s what was wrong with my body” moment.

I harbor no illusions that managing this disease is going to be a cakewalk for Geoff and me.  It’s not easy to make lasting changes, and working to stop overeating takes a lot of hard work for a host of biological, psychological, and environmental reasons.  I also think a healthy marriage is no guarantee that overcoming any of life’s challenges will be easy.  But this episode has been a reminder to me of how much I am responsible for my own life, even though it’s a life lived in tandem with another person.  Maybe that seems obvious, but I guess I needed reminding.

A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing.  But it’s no substitute for an independent you.

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  • “A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you.”
    I think this applies to so many areas of marriage. Just because I am part of an ‘us’ (well, almost) doesn’t mean I’m still not ‘me.’

    Thanks for writing this, I’m sure a lot of people have travelled similar journeys.

    AND I just re-read your other post, and I LOVE the line

    “I felt stunningly gorgeous, but more importantly, I felt loved.”
    That’s going to be going round in my head for a while!

    • Absolutely. I think that, as brave as it is to enter a couple and commit to marriage with that person, it’s even braver to maintain your sense of self and independence, however that manifests itself.

      This is a lovely post; I took a break from my google reader for the week (tooooo busy!) but clicked on APW out of habit after checking my email. I’m so glad I took the time to read this post. Thanks for sharing, Margaret.

    • Courtney

      I was just about to write the same thing!

      “A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you.”

      So true.

    • AKP

      Exactly a million times to this statement!!! I think independence, in the sense of taking full responsibility for your own health and happiness, is the most important ingredient in a healthy relationship. In my life, it’s only after I learned to take full ownership of my own struggles and triumphs that I was able to let someone else in, let them help me and join in the good parts of life, without feeling any loss to my own sense of self. It’s easy to get lost in your life partner, but so so important to learn the lesson you’ve talked about today. Thank you for the post!

  • A-L

    My husband and I watched Love and Other Drugs two nights ago, thinking it was going to be a romantic comedy. Instead it was about a relationship between two people, one of whom has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. And it really touched a nerve with me, because though I don’t have any chronic or debilitating diseases, I had a health scare a few years ago that appeared to be one. I take steps to try and prevent anything like that from happening again, and my DH is quite supportive of me in those efforts. But yeah, the “A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you,” quote is a lynch pin here.

    At the same time, there are other health issues that my husband and I are dealing/avoiding with. My weight’s been going up, and his love of fast food (and hatred of vegetables) remains strong. These are areas where we both need to take responsibility for our choices. Our spouse can support us, but we’ve got to do the work.

    • Side note on Love and Other Drugs, I feel like the marketing for that movie was so misleading. My boyfriend and I started watching what we thought was a romantic comedy … and were left with a Parkinsons movie. So depressing, esp. because we both had family members battling Parkinsons.

  • Zan

    Here is the part that I love best:

    “I also think a healthy marriage is no guarantee that overcoming any of life’s challenges will be easy.”

    Yes and yes and yes.

    Oh, and its not just Geoff, I’m rooting for you too! (I think we all are)

  • Rachel T.

    As someone who has battled depression and an eating disorder since middle school, I completely understand and agree with this post. I love so much to hear these posts that deal with more than just a wedding but also how to be a strong and independent partner in a marriage. I am one of those FIERCELY independent people, something that obviously comes with an eating disorder, the desire and need to control. My fiance knows about it, and he is very supportive. It’s tough for him though sometimes to understand exactly what goes through my head. In the years of my recovery, I’ve gained 100 lbs, 70 of which were gained during the 4 years we’ve been together. It’s tough for him to understand why when I know I need to lose weight and eat well, I don’t just “do that”. It’s not just a switch that I can flip. But he knows he doesn’t understand and instead tries to just be caring and supportive in ways he knows how. It’s good for me to learn to lean on other people a bit for emotional support, but it’s important to me, like with what Margaret said, to learn to TAKE CARE OF my body. Yes I can be controlling, but I’m learning to control in healthy ways, in ways that aren’t dangerous for my body but instead are soothing, to be proactive instead of reactive. My fiance can support me emotionally as much as I allow him to, but illnesses like Diabetes and eating disorders need a level of self-control and SELF-LOVE that partners can’t give us. We have to find it ourselves. Cheers to Margaret for reminding me of that.

    • Amen to the self love. So sometimes I am a little embarrassed to admit this but one thing that has been HUGELY helpful to me has been reading a lot of books on Self Compassion (my favorite has been The Mindful Path to Self Compassion). Which is basically the idea that you should treat yourself with the compassion you would extend to any other human being. I think it is so important and helpful.

      • Class of 1980

        I recently read that self compassion is more important than self esteem. Because no one can be the best all the time. That’s when compassion gets you through and helps you to keep going.

        • Right and I think there’s something about self esteem that means raising yourself up at the expense of others. But self compassion just means accepting yourself as a flawed human being, just as you would accept anyone else. It also doesn’t mean a free pass on all behavior; it means treating yourself the way your best friend would. (And your best friend occasionally calls you on your bad behavior, doesn’t she? Mine does!)

  • Rachel

    I’m so glad to see this on here.

    I have fibromyalgia (a chronic pain condition) and was diagnosed at 21. I was just starting my last year of university, had met a great guy, was excited about the future, cramming in as much fun as possible with my university friends before we graduated and dispersed across the country, when suddenly, it was like I was run over by a truck. No matter how much I slept I felt exhausted all the time. I had deep, painful aches throughout my entire body. My digestive system stopped functioning at all. If people touched my upper arms, neck, or upper back, it hurt so much I’d cry, even from minimal pressure. My immune system rebelled, and I suddenly developed a host of allergies and sensitivities I’d never had before, including a life-threatening food allergy. I had to radically alter my life at a time when everything was already changing faster than I could keep up with. I couldn’t go out with my friends at night because I was too exhausted and too sore. I had to register with disability services at my university and get a lot of my classes and deadlines adjusted because I didn’t have the energy for night classes. I became a homebody to the extreme, but also had the great joy of recognizing how wonderful my friends are. Despite my pleas with them not too, they would give up their wild nights out to come and watch movies and hang out in my apartment. On days when they knew I was going through tough physiotherapy or other treatments, they’d show up at my door with my favourite tea and ask how I was doing. They were, and still are, absolutely wonderful while I coped with the transition.

    What can make fibromyalgia even worse is the fact that there remains a subset of people, even in 2011, that believe that fibromyalgia is short for ‘lazy hypochondriac’. There is a another subset of more well-meaning, but misinformed individuals, many in the medical profession, who think fibromyalgia is actually depression (I’m perfectly happy, thankyouverymuch). This is one of the issues you have to deal with when you have an ‘invisible illness’ – the constant refrain of ‘but you don’t look sick!’ I was very fortunate to have a doctor who actually understood the disease, knew the diagnostic criteria, and was able to offer a solid diagnosis, and who is now working with me to manage the symptoms (there’s no cure).

    So yes, I totally agree with everything you wrote about finding your independence, learning to take care of yourself, and establishing what really matters, because those truly are the blessings in disguise that can accompany a chronic illness. Does everybody have to see their chronic illness as a blessing? No, it doesn’t make you any less of a person if you see it as nothing but evil incarnate, but I can relate to the ‘blessing’ side of things.

    And that great guy I met at the beginning of all this? He’s still here, and still great.

    Sorry for the essay, I don’t get to talk about this very often :)

    • Jo

      I’m really glad you did!

      • carrie

        Me too!

    • That’s wonderful. I totally agree with everything you said.

      I get to deal with my own “invisible illness” – IBS. A chronic syndrome that shows literally nothing wrong with my body, and that is totally awkward to talk about. Yay! It took A LOT of time for the my family to realize 1) I was not faking anything and 2) I was doing the best I could. But now they’ve come around and totally support my on bad days and good. My boyfriend has supported me since the day I finally told him, even though from time to time he’ll give me advice about my eating habits that he believes will cure everything. It’s hard because a lot of people don’t understand, and a lot of medical professionals don’t understand. But I think having that core set of family, friends and partners that DO understand and DO support you will help you make it through the rough days. For me, it strengthens my independence in learning to take care of myself, knowing that I have good people rooting me on towards a healthier life, that genuinely want to help when I saw “hey I can’t eat this anymore.”

      I’m happy you also shared your story and that you have that support. :)

    • AWB

      I have Fibro and it’s lovely sister M.E and I’ve traveled a similar journey to you- with my guy along side me most of the way.

      I think finding blessings are one of the treasures I’ve been able to take from this really hard journey (which has been over ten years). I’d never have self analysed so much and worked out so much in my head about my own body and what i wanted.. I don’t think I wuld be as close to my loved ones..be able to have the raw and open discussions I have.. I don’t think i would have been as close to my guy..overcoming illness and learning together to deal with it in a place that means you live with the illness..not ARE the illness is a really massive one

  • Jo

    Yes, yes, a thousand times YES!

    This post embodies to me our biggest journey. Heck, the one sentence about supportive partner v independent me. We’ve both for so long been on our own, been the one supporting others, that it was difficult for us to a) learn to accept the support of the other, and then b) learn to not depend on it. There are times where I’m battling depression and can’t make myself get out of bed, so he yanks me up for walks for a few days, and then I can do it myself. And do. Then there are weeks where he can’t make himself deal with his grandma, and I’ll let him vent, and then I’ll push him to go back, and then he can deal with it again. It’s the mix of support and independence that can be so difficult to find, and are so necessary.

    Margaret, your view of this disease is inspiring and delights my heart. Zan was right when she said it’s not just Geoff pulling for you, it’s all of us.

  • Emily

    Great post! I love how you’ve welcomed your diagnosis, owned it, and let it help you get healthier.

  • KMA(C)

    Thank you, thank you for this! I am someone coming out the other side of one of those is-this-life-threatening mystery illnesses that finally got treated. The process of adapting has led me to swing wildly from so independent I’m excluding my partner, to so dependent I don’t recognize myself. I am so grateful to have your wise words to factor into my path toward finding a balance.
    Thank you for writing a brave, deeply insightful post for a gray morning.

  • Lisa B.

    Yeahhh. I’m in the fibro boat my own-self, and this post was probably the kick in the pants that I needed. I don’t take care of myself and I have been relying on my boyfriend for way too much.

    So, hopefully, I’ll stop doing that now.

    • I’ve been fighting depression and anxiety for years, and while I’ve been seeking therapy off and on for a few years, I finally sought psychiatric help. I have been relying on my husband WAY too much for my own emotional support and stability, and haven’t been able to fully be there for him. Now that I’ve started treatment for my depression, I feel stronger and more capable of my own ability to soothe and reassure myself, and now will have the strength to be both independent for myself, and be a support for my husband when he needs it.

      My over-reliance on him not only hindered my own independence, but was crippling our relationship. Using him as a crutch was just as bad for him as it was bad for me. His support got me through my hardest struggles, and I look forward to being strong enough to return the favor. It sure as hell wasn’t easy to overcome (see: the YEARS it took to figure out), but it has already made us stronger as a couple.

      • Denzi

        Agh, seriously, Sarah, are you me?

        I am in the “getting more capable to sooth and reassure myself” part, and it’s SO HARD. I would like the strength to be independent for myself (and my fiance, who is the fiercely independent one of us, sure would like me to be more independent too!), but it’s an uphill battle.

        If you feel up to chatting more (also because I am sneaky like a sneaky thing and I would really like to be your friend), email me? cadenza AT gmail DOT com.

    • meg

      Cardo, lady. 30 minutes a day 5 days a week, even if it kills you and you can only walk super slowly and cry (you’ll work up to hard core machines eventually). Then when you’re feeling ready, acupuncture.

      • Jessica D

        I would also suggest reading the book, “Good Calorie, Bad Calorie” by Gary Taubes. The title makes the book sound like some silly diet book (this made me turn my nose up at it and not read it for years), but it is really 600 pages of extensive research that will help you understand what is happening hormonally in your body and why this makes you want to eat so much.

  • Theresa

    I justed wanted to “Exactly!” this statement a million times:

    “A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you.”

  • Anne

    “A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you”

    Thank you. I needed that today. We’re two months out from the wedding, and I’ve been having the sads, big time. My best friend is moving to LA this week (I’m in DC), and all of my girlfriends seem to have disappeared into work, or happy relationships, or babies. I’ve been feeling anxious about the wedding, anxious about doing something as grown up as getting married when I am not a grown up at all, and really lonely on account of the drifting friends. And I’ve been leaning on the fiance a lot, and getting frustrated when his support, while wonderful, isn’t enough to fix the problem. So thank you for the reminder that it’s his job to support me, and he’s doing that, but ultimately, the power and responsibility to pull myself out of this ultimately rests with me.

    • carrie

      And you can do it! We all know that life changes around us at the most inconvenient times, and weddings amplify the stress of life it seems like. It makes me sad that weddings can bring out the worst in ourselves and other people, but APW brings me back to the happy…most of the time. Carolyn Hax gave the advice to someone to talk about her issue/fear with someone because once you’ve spoken it out loud rather than putting it on the endless loop in your head, it can become much less scary. I put this to practice a couple of weeks ago and it was true for me. Also? Carolyn Hax’s archives on WaPo kinda help me when I’m spinning. Sorry, I have no idea why I felt compelled to give unsolicited advice this morning – I just understand where you’re coming from and am a fellow DCer. :-)

      • meg

        I do love Carolyn Hax.

    • Valerie

      Another DCer here. I feel you on the friend drift. I meet such wonderful people here, but no one ever seems to stay more than 2 or 3 years. Most of the people who are coming to our wedding ( in 1.5 weeks—how is it already that close!?!) are people we became close with here in DC, but have all since scattered across the country to grad schools, new jobs, back home, etc. We’ve made new friends, but we aren’t able to invite most of them to our tiny wedding and it feels wrong to go to them with wedding stress. I’m so grateful to APW for being such a shining source of strength and encouragement in this stressful little wedding bubble, and to people like Margaret who make me feel strong about what will come when this little wedding bubble pops.

      @Carrie Do you read Dear Prudence on Slate/WaPo? I’m completely addicted.

      • I think friend drift is such a common thing, especially in your 20s and especially in DC. It is just such a migratory city. I have had so many friends who lived there for a few years before moving on. And many of my friends have left my own area. It’s really painful but I have adapted.

        I used to live in Philly and now live in the so-outer-they’re-a-small-city-burbs. It is hyper isolating. Thank God for the internet.

        Also, a month before my wedding, I hauled myself into my doctor’s office and walked out with anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants. While probably not the ideal time to go on anti-depressants, I did find them helpful.

      • carrie

        @Valerie – no, but I think I need to check it out, thank you! And like Margaret said, DC is incredibly migratory. I was born in DC and raised in the Maryland burbs, and my mix of friends range from the temporary to born and raised like me. It’s hard. Especially when you can’t invite everyone to your wedding, since friendships can shift even over the course of months. And yay, 1.5 weeks to go! Super exciting and have an awesome day! :-)

        @Margaret – well put, it’s totally true. I live out in the middle burbs outside of DC and it was really hard when I was younger b/c everyone thought I was in the boonies. So I feel you. And hey, better living through chemistry! Anti-depressants got me through a couple of terrible years in my 20s and helped me find the person I wanted to be.

        • Laura Mc

          I didn’t know there were so many other DCers around APW! Makes me want to do the book club meetups and hang with you ladies…

          • McPants

            @ Laura MC: You should! It’s always a good time, despite the hecklers we got last meeting. :)

            @Carrie, Valerie and Anne: DC really is so transitory, and I’m so glad to not be the only one dealing with DC Friend Drift. (It’s officially a thing now. I put it in caps.) We just had to revise our estimated guest list from ~80 to ~55 b/c so many friends couldn’t afford to travel back for the wedding, and I was really bummed for a while. It felt lonely, like nobody was taking our wedding seriously or cared enough about us to make it. It’s hard not to make it about yourself, even though it’s really the recession or med school or what-have-you keeping them away. Eventually I put on my big-girl panties and realized that 55 people I love and who love me are going to be there to see us get married, and that is marvelous, and nothing to sneeze at, but yeah, DC can be isolating. However, clearly there are lots of us on here, so at least there’s some support. I’m smelling a meet-up brewing.

        • hmm yep!! sounds about time for happy hour! Laura Mc and anyone else, if you’re on facebook search “APW-DC” and request an add-in to the group!

          • Anne

            Aww, you guys! Thanks for the kind words, commiseration, and advice, and I just requested to join the facebook group. The thing with the DC Friend Drift is that it was fine when the stream of friends who were leaving was being offset somewhat by making new friends, but now that I’m a little more settled, the new friends stream has slowed to a trickle. Sounds like an APW happy hour would be a good first step towards fixing that!

          • carrie

            This kind of made my day! Just requested to join the group. APW DC FTW!

            I’ll shut up now.

          • Seraphine

            I didn’t know the facebook group existed. I just requested to join too!

      • A-L

        Like Margaret, I understand the friend drift thing. I live in New Orleans and many people moved after a Bad Event. Which was understandable. But then lots of people moved down because they wanted to help with the recovery for a few years…but the few years have passed and now they’re gone. And this process seems to repeat for so many folks. So yeah, friend drifts can be hard.

        • TJ

          I was actually born and raised in DC, and lived there until I moved to New Orleans after the storm. My now-very-far-away friends at home are all Beltway natives and will never leave, but all the friends I met down here are migrants like me – then after two or three years they all moved to DC! It makes it twice as hard to be away from home.

  • carrie

    Thank you for sharing with us once again, Margaret. You have a couple of amazing lessons in there – making sure you are still an independent YOU and viewing news like this as an opportunity to make changes. So positive and so awesome.

  • My husband got sick a couple of months ago and diagnosed with hepa B. Although it was not his fault such illness, I felt a bit mad at him for not being careful with the food he ate. But of course, I still couldn’t do anything and just have to be there to support him and help him to fully recover. Thank God he is alright now and I do appreciate we always have one another in struggles and hardship that may come our way.

  • Such a good post and such an important lesson to learn. I don’t have a chronic disease, but learning to care for myself and knowing what that means, has been so empowering. I used to think I took care of myself, but I’m starting to learn what self-care means on even the most nuanced level. It can be just knowing that I want to head home on a Friday night while my guy stays out, for example.

    It’s about knowing my own limitations and knowing what is good for me and implementing it. It’s a longer way of saying what Meg said above: If I don’t take care of me, who will? I am in charge of making space for self-care. What a concept! Scary at first, maybe, but then so, so empowering.

  • Cass

    Yay! It’s one of the topics I requested on the survey. Well, not yay because chronic illness sucks but I’m glad we’re talking about it.

    Like the others, the line
    “A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you” resonated with me. Because for a long time, my back problem was so bad I lost the ability to be independent outside of work. Quitting my job was not an option (woo NYC) so I struggled through a 9 hour day with horrible pain and then collapsed when I got home. Without my husband, I would have been lying on the floor eating uncooked ramen. And it just got worse for the six months that followed the surgery that was supposed to fix the issue.

    After my surgery, I was put on a nerve medication that slowed my response time and destroyed my memory. It sucked because I never felt like me, but it did make possible for me to fuction on a day-to-day basis. I pushed myself to take that small step forward and use it in every way possible – to look for a new job in a city that was less physically damaging to my body (NYC is not disability friendly AT ALL), to work out or go to physical therapy every day I could, to lend a hand at home, to be a better a friend and wife.

    This process has been hard on my husband and me. Meg’s matyr posts made me think of how much he’s been forced to sacrifice in the past few years. If it weren’t for my problem, we’d be in a much better place financially, but we try to keep our eyes on the prize. But it hurt me when he admited that the least stressful time in his life were the months we spent apart during our interstate move.

    Becoming independent again has been a very difficult and very emotional process for me. On bad days, it’s hard not to feel like I’ve lost it all again but I try to look back and see how far I’ve come. This year I was able to visit my best friend who’s living on the other side of the planet, find a new job, move back to my home city, and rekindle my relationship with my husband is back on track. Everytime I’m discouraged or hurting, I’m going to try to think back to, “A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you” and make myself do some hardcore ab exercises or something. ; ) Thank you.

    • Big hugs. I have loved ones who have had that kind of back pain and the recovery from the resulting surgery was not pretty.

      You know, sometimes I think that life is a little easier logistically when you don’t have to balance the dreams/desires/needs of another person. But easier doesn’t mean it’s preferable, at least not for me.

      • ka

        “You know, sometimes I think that life is a little easier logistically when you don’t have to balance the dreams/desires/needs of another person. But easier doesn’t mean it’s preferable, at least not for me.”

        Oh my god, yes, this. Fiance has literally said word for word to me. Being in a long-term relationship, even if you love the hell out of the person, will never be *easy* for someone like me who is deeply rooted in laziness, selfull-ness, and a love for simplifying logistics. :-)

    • Amy

      As someone who has some hardcore back issues as well, I wonder if you’ve looked into something like pilates? Its certainly not cheap, but it does wonders for shoring up my core strength, and most of the instructors are quite good at dealing with mobility issues. It was such a revelation to go from having a bad day once a week, to a bad day once every month.

      • Cass

        “You know, sometimes I think that life is a little easier logistically when you don’t have to balance the dreams/desires/needs of another person. But easier doesn’t mean it’s preferable, at least not for me.”

        Margaret, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the same thought in my darker moments. At least I could be non-functional blob by myself instead of dragging him down with me. The guilt that I’m ruining our lives is crushing sometimes. But on the other side, the potential for a better life together is fantastic motivation and we have an amazing appreciation for the good days now. Easier, but not preferable is a great way to put it. There’s an Art Williams (?) quote I like: “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy i’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

        Amy, I’m working my way up to pilates! Unfortuantely I’m not strong enough yet. I have a trainer nearly murder me with pilates a few months ago and it set me back several weeks but I’m hoping to get back to it soon. I feel so much better when I’m strong.

        • Amy

          Oh no! Sorry to hear about your bad experience! Good trainers who understand your issues (and when to push you and when to back off) are so key. I’m still walking the line between getting better/stronger and learning to set limits with myself. Like, I’d really really like to be able to run/jog but logically I know its not something that will ever be good for my pain. Sigh.
          Anyhow, many hugs to you and good luck on your journey!

        • Seraphine

          You could also look into Yoga. I do Iyengar yoga–good Iyengar yoga studios have highly, highly trained instructors, and they’re also super prop heavy, so that people who have injuries and other physical limitations can feel the benefits–the point is to meet each student where they are at and not push them into poses they are not ready for. A story (to show how supportive my studio is): One week I went to yoga class with a horrible headache, and the instructor told me that if it didn’t go away, there was a “headache” pose that I could rest in for the rest of the class. (I’ve also found some amazing poses and stretches that help with my back issues.)

  • jarymane

    I just love you Margaret! I love how honest you are, with your readers and with yourself, about what’s going on with you and yours, and I love that you’re able to maintain that honesty without beating yourself up for struggling through some of the tough parts of life. I overcame an eating disorder a few years ago, after 15 long years of suffering, and although I’m in a much better place now, it is a damn STRUGGLE! I’ve had some health backlashes, too. For example, I’m terrified to go to the dentist, every time I’ve gone for the past 5 years they’ve told me I have to have a root canal or some such (thanks bulimia). I realize this isn’t as serious a health issue as diabetes, but it’s still really scary and awful and I really can’t stop feeling embarrassed, like I deserve this because I did it to myself. Anyway, if you’re awesome self can find the courage to face the doctor, so can I. I’m going to call the dentist today, for real. And I’ll just deal with whatever diagnosis I get, and that’s that.

    Seriously, thanks (AGAIN!) for sharing your story with all of us, I seriously think you’re so great (have I made that clear?? ha!).

    • Aww, I am so touched, I can’t even tell you.

      Look, you can get through it, I promise.

      I know it’s scary to get a diagnosis, believe me, but without the diagnosis you really have no shot at making *the problem* better. I’d rather have a diagnosis and a treatment plan than an untreated problem, no?

  • I loved this post. So much of it resonated with what me and my partner have been going through while I suffer from depression. I wish you health and happiness and admire you so much for your obvious strength and wisdom!

  • Class of 1980

    Yes to Margaret’s post!

    A supportive spouse is a God-send for emotional and psychological health, but they can’t actually take over your personal responsibilities.

    And you wouldn’t really want them to.

  • I love your last two sentences. So true. Best wishes for your health and happiness.

  • Karen

    So glad I read this today (I’m packing to go away and just sneaking in APW before I leave!). I feel like I’m heading into depression for the first (or possibly) second time in my life, and I’m leaning on my fiance an awful lot…he’s being great, but this is a wake-up call to me to keep an eye on what I’m doing and remain in charge of the changes I need to make.

    Thank you, Margaret — and to everyone who’s commented.

  • Wow, this post! Even though I dealt with something different, I think this post can really resonate with anyone who is in a relationship and is trying to deal with a health-issue.

    I have sleep apnea and have for a long time. For years I had a feeling I did, with the constant exhaustion, the weight gain, the yearning to eat crappy foods, and just feeling down about myself.. oh and Matt telling me that I snored SO LOUD and that I stopped breathing in my sleep. I was terrified to go to a doctor and find out I had it. Matt kept telling me to go, and finally I gave in and met with a sleep specialist. After 2 sleep studies, I got a call from the sleep specialist telling me I had severe sleep apnea, and that he was moving me up his list to get me treatment ASAP. My oxygen level dropped down to 60% when I slept, and I woke up 122 times per hour. It explained so much. It was terrifying but also relieving to know I finally have a diagnosis; I finally had a reason why I felt so terrible all the time.. I couldn’t even make it through a movie without passing out while sitting up.

    It’s scary to go through but also forced me to be more independent, just like you. I just wanted to say thank you Margaret for this post and your Wedding Graduate post. I cannot even begin to tell you how what that Wedding Graduate post did for me at a time where I felt like I was going to look horrible on my wedding day because of my weight…

    So thank you again for such a beautiful and helpful post. :)

    • Thank you for the kind words. I too have sleep apnea. Have you gotten your CPAP yet? I have to say, that was an overnight miracle for me. I had no idea what normal was supposed to feel like. Suddenly I felt so alert and awake all day–it was a total life changer for me. I have had it for about a year and a half. When I started feeling bad this fall, I wondered if my machine might have needed to be re-calibrated.

      I’m glad you felt good on your wedding day, because it’s your WEDDING day. Getting married has very little to do with how you look and everything to do with how you feel, in my mind.

      Many, many hugs!

      • Yes! I got my CPAP within a week of my final sleep study. I’ve now had it around the same amount of time you have, actually, year and a half. And oh my, what a difference. I have so much more energy. I remember thinking the same thing as you, “Holy crap, THIS is what it’s like to feel like a normal person and not a zombie?” It’s amazing. Without it I wouldn’t be able to work the job that I currently have because by noon I’d be passed out at my desk, whether I liked it or not.

        But yes, thanks again and it’s so true. I felt beautiful on that day, I truly did, and your essay put my mind at ease that, yes, I would feel beautiful. I still have self-image/body issues that I’m currently working on, but your post came at a time when I needed it most. :)

    • Other Katelyn

      My boyfriend has sleep apnea too, and just got what I affectionately refer to as “his machine.” Huge, huge huge difference in his quality of life.

      • It’s scary how much you don’t realize it will change your life to go in and get treatment for it. Sure, my CPAP mask terrified my dog when I put it on for the first time (no seriously, he wouldn’t come near me, haha), and I told Matt it was my “sexy mask”, but to be able to actually SLEEP at night instead of constantly waking up, getting up to go to the bathroom 5 times a night, waking up with horrible heartburn, or literally waking up gasping for breath… Ugh, I can’t believe that I lived that way for as long as I did, honestly.

        It also made me realize how dependent I was on Matt to do things because of my constant exhaustion and depression that seemed to creep up on me. It changed both of our lives for the better.

      • And *your* quality of life, too, if you share a bed! My husband referred to the feeling of sleeping through the night like this:

        “As someone who basically shared in your sleep apnea every night for the past year plus some, I might have better words for it. It’s like getting your arm out of a cast. It’s like having an orgasm that lasts all day.”

        • Haha this is the best description of it. Love it.

  • Harriet

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post Margaret. Like everyone else, I love the last two lines the most. I would only add that, if you’re lucky enough to have a supportive partner, he/she deserves an independent you. My partner is wonderfully supportive, but it hurts him if I berate myself or need to constantly lean on him for validation. I am always grateful for his support (and I reciprocate), but my independence is really important for his happiness.

  • Jess

    Thanks for this post. I have Type 1 Diabetes and am engaged. Although I have lived with the limitations, danger, and general pain-in-the-assedness of this disease for most of my life, it changes the dynamic so much to bring another person into the equation. We bounce back and forth between me being annoyed at him asking me to check my blood sugar 568 times each day (Dude – don’t you KNOW how long I’ve been doing this on my own??) to him being annoyed with me for “not following the rules” perfectly, to me recognizing the amount of worry that he balances on a daily basis and thus, feeling extreme guilt for being a burden. But what I have learned is that it is better (if not always easier) to tackle this as a team.

    • sarah

      I’m the flip of this- my fiance has type 1. The difference with us is that he was only diagnosed last year, so we were already well established in our relationship when he was diagnosed. I took a real “we’re in this together” stance, especially at first when it was all so new. I’m starting to be able to let go.. a little :) Maybe I’ll stop asking him what his blood sugar level is at 568 times a day!

    • Jess, I have Type 1 diabetes too- have done since I was 5, and I’m 26 now. I guess because I have had it for so much of my life, I don’t often see it as a big deal. But then you get to the point in your life where having babies isn’t in the extremely distant future anymore and realise that diabetes is actually a big deal. It also worries me that I could potentially suffer complications in the future, and I want to be around and super healthy for as long as I can with my fiance/husband. It is really only starting to bother me now that I am tying myself to somebody else forever.

      I have asked my fiance whether it bothers him and of course he wants me to be healthy- but that is nothing to do with why he loves me. And as he says, anybody could get cancer or something tomorrow, nobody knows what will happen. Morbid, but it makes me feel better.

      • Jess

        Absolutely. I too was in the situation where I had been doing this thing and dancing this dance for so long on my own that it didn’t seem like a big deal. And now that I am engaged and confronting the very real probability of having children soon, it seems to have gotten “bigger” in some way. And I see how worried he gets over things that are normal to me and I feel bad…for him. I think that sometimes those of us who live with and manage chronic diseases forget how hard it can be on our care givers. Of course, we could all walk out of our house and get mowed down by a bus, but my eye and kidney issues are real in the here and now. I now have a whole different level of respect for my parents’ experience raising a Type 1 diabetic. I know tht my fiance’s fears and worries are all based in love and that makes his busy-bodyness easier to deal with. Oh, he is also a nurse, and that is super convenient. :o)

  • Thank you so much for this post. My wife and I are both very fortunate in that the only long-term health issues we have are very easily managed and don’t impact our day-to-day lives much right now, but based on our families’ health histories, this will likely not always be the case. We didn’t include “in sickness and in health” in our vows, but it was still very much there in conversations that we’ve had, both before and since our wedding, about how we’ll support and care for each other if/when those issues come up.

    We also sat down with a lawyer shortly after our wedding and wrote wills, powers of attorney, and healthcare proxy documents. The discussion of “at what point do you want me to pull the plug,” while very different from the topics being discussed here, is another very tangible reminder that this is REAL and we’re in this for the long haul. Hopefully we won’t need to make any decisions like that for a very long time, but I’m glad that we had the discussions.

    In the more day-to-day issues, I’ve certainly fought my own battles with depression in the past, and every once in awhile those issues rear their ugly head again. My wife has always been extremely supportive, but now I’m more aware of how my issues affect her. I know I’m not a very pleasant person to be around when all I want to do is sit on the couch and stare at my computer all day, but I appreciate that she supports me and gives me space when I need it but also encourages and prods me to keep going when I need to.

  • Margaret, you are brave, brilliant and BADASS.

    Your posts have been some of the best I’ve read on there, and I thank you for sharing. :) So glad that you’re feeling better. (in many ways)

  • excellent post! While not anywhere near the scale of a chronic health program, my semester at school has been kicking my butt. 18 credits (half of them graduate level) + 20 hours a week of teaching + school observations = little time for taking care of myself. I have definitely been relying way too much on my boyfriend for things. I am now actively working on calming down my life and making sure I will have time to return his favor as soon as my semester is done. And I am never doing this much again because it’s just not taking care of myself.

    Thanks for reminding us that we are at our best to care for others when we care for ourselves first.

    • clampers

      Ugh, I hear you. Working at a new fulltime job, taking a full graduate courseload, doing freelance, buying a house, getting married in July…yeah. Let’s just say that McDonald’s has seen a lot of my credit card these past three months. It’s almost over though.

  • ka

    This is an amazing post. And I’m so glad you’ve had such positives breakthroughs in your health. I can definitely relate to: “It has forced me to be more organized, adopt better eating habits, and move more. Instead of resenting those things, I’ve welcomed them into my life, and the irony is that I’m far healthier now than I was before,” having been through several health problems myself that were the kick in the pants I needed to change some seriously bad habits. I am very thankful for those challenges in retrospect.

    But what I’ve been trying to figure out a way to say all day, is how do you act when you’re on the other side of the relationship? I hit a lot of health lows before our relationship began and they armed me with the knowledge of how to take better care of myself in the future–listening to my body and knowing when to man up and go to the dr, etc. And that’s knowledge I’m trying to get through to my husband-to-be, but am finding it hard to be the Geoff, begging and dragging to doctors, and cheering for fruits and vegetables. It’s exhausting enough to take care of myself and my health/mental health issues, but then when I add another person, a person who’s supposedly an adult, into the mix it’s damn near overwhelming. I feel shitty even saying that, but if I can’t say it here where can I say it?

    I guess my question is, to all the ladies who have been there, what did “taking care of you” look like? (because I really don’t know, even when I was seriously ill, I didn’t really have anyone to take care of me), and what kind of behavior from your partner was most effective in improving your quality of life in the long term? (from unconditional support to endless nagging that finally resulted in you taking action)

    (Why I couldn’t not post is–I have been dying for him to get tested for sleep apnea for years, but he won’t do it.)

    • I really don’t know if I can answer that question. I have been guilty of nagging and haranguing on the other side, myself–usually to no avail. And since I have eventually sought and gratefully received treatment, often because I have gone to the doctor for unrelated complaints, I usually spend more time being grateful for feeling better than beating myself up or wondering about why I went to the doctor on Wednesday and not Tuesday, you know? So, I dunno.

      My one guess is that at the end of the day, the decision to seek treatment needs to come from some intrinsic motivation to feel better. But never underestimate the ability of certain conditions–and I would certainly count sleep apnea amongst them–to completely drain you until the idea of picking up a phone and finding your insurance card feels like scaling a mountain. Any help you can provide on the organizational front goes a long way, I think.

    • Geoff

      Hi! It’s Geoff. Sorry to intrude on Paradise Island, but Margaret asked me to give your post a read and share my thoughts.

      So, the thing is: yes, it can be hard to be available in that way sometimes. No, it’s not easy all the time or even most of the time, and it can go stretches without being easy any of the time. On the other hand, it’s probably not easy to deal with you either, a lot of the time. That’s what it comes down to for me: the realization that I’m married, and that means I’m part of a team, and however hard it might be to support Margaret through this or that or the other thing, I have to do it, because I need her to do it for me. Yes, it’s exhausting, but it pays dividends in the things you don’t have to be as exhausted about some other time, when you find yourself needing to be the one who leans on your partner for a while. So keeping that in mind at the toughest of times is what helps keep me motivated (and it’s not theoretical; Margaret talks me up here a good deal but the truth is that she’s been just as amazing in supporting me through some times that in my view were even tougher). So I guess that would be my advice, if you want it: don’t lose sight of your own flaws, and keep focused on the ways in which your guy helps you get through the hard times, and I think you’ll have more energy to be there for him.

      • N

        Oh this comment just warmed my heart. The love between the two of you is so evident in how you talk about your relationship. Plus, really solid advice.

      • ka

        You guys rule for chiming in – thank you!

        And yea, “On the other hand, it’s probably not easy to deal with you either, a lot of the time.” I get told this constantly, so I do realize it. It’s not that he’s ill, it’s just a general lack of eating/exercise/drinking water/check ups, coupled with complaining about how crappy he feels all the time. And as one of those ppl who always wants to fix what’s wrong, the hard part for me is finding the line between being unconditionally supportive and encouraging him to take action. Volunteering to be the one who actually calls the Dr. might be something worth trying!

  • m

    This is a great post that I loved now and think I will come back to later in life as well!

  • dragon

    I’m still reveling in the joy of having a supportive partner. I have two chronic conditions – my migraines stem from a head injury five years ago and have essentially prevented me from doing cardiovascular exercise, bumping me up to a size 14. Two years ago I developed a digestive illness that had caused me to drop to a size 4 within several months and couldn’t stand without getting dizzy. The doctors were unable to diagnose despite extensive testing and biopsies. My family was pretty MIA and my mom (who has some mental health issues) ranted to other family members that I wasn’t helping her enough with planning a reception for my brother and his new wife. I really questioned those relationships and went through some intense grieving.

    Through one of the most difficult times in my life, my wife was there with me. I could talk to her about how scared I was about my health and angry and sad and all the rest, and she was still there and still loved me in the morning. I can’t express in words what it means to have a person that I can actually depend on to look out for me and for us. Even when the migraines got so bad that all I did for months on end was work or lie in bed. That we make choices together – like the one that I had to leave my 60+ hour a week job to focus on my health – in this economy! I educated myself on my conditions, found new doctors, and made radical changes; to my diet (goodbye caffeine, chocolate, wine, nuts, fresh dairy…etc), my sleep schedule, medications, and how I deal with stress (meditation, more yoga, biofeedback, etc). I couldn’t have done this while working my old, stressful job. I am doing this part of the work, but together we made the space and the time for me to do it.

  • When we were talking about our budget (for life, not the wedding) and the amount of financial reserve we needed, we heard that if you have a chronic illness you need a larger reserve. We joked that while I do not have A chronic illness, it seems I am chronically ill. For the last 15 years I have had a major doctor visit of some kind at least once a year. Either illness or injury, and none of the injuries have good stories. For example, I injured all the soft tissue in my thumb putting away boxes of Christmas ornaments in January of 2009 and still in November of 2009 when we were writing thank you notes for our wedding I could only do a few at a time because my thumb would hurt too much. I dealt with my medical life for 10+ years on my own. But it’s so nice to have someone else to lean on when I’m emotionally or physically weak now, someone who will prop me back up till I can stand on my own again.

  • Kimikaze

    Earlier this week I was diagnosed with a third chronic condition. As if wedding planning wasn’t hard enough with two! Part of the treatment involves moving to a mainly vegan diet and upping my exercise. A few well meaning people have commented on how it’ll mean I’ll look great in my wedding dress, but the thing is I love how I look NOW. If losing weight is what I need to do to deal with my health issues, I’ll do it happily, but I know that I don’t need it to feel better about myself as a person.

    Thanks for such an awesome and timely post :) best of luck to you and all the other APWers dealing with illnesses, chronic or otherwise.

    • dragon

      The weight comments were infuriating to me at times. I dropped 8-10 sizes in a few months, which was clearly NOT healthy. But we get so many cultural messages that weight loss is good. Even when alarm bells should be going off, well meaning people make positive comments. It was hard when I felt like my pain and anxiety were minimized by people saying “But you look great!” When I wanted to respond – “Really, because I feel like sh*t and may have a rare form of cancer or some other f-d up disease and they still can’t figure it out.”, I tried to take them in the spirit that they were intended and gently let folks know that it was due to medical problems – without unloading all of my stress and frustration on them!

      I was ok with how I looked. I wasn’t thrilled with having gone up a few sizes from the migraines and medications, but for the past several years I have viewed my weight primarily as an indicator of my health. That allowed me to roll with the punches of going up to a 14, down to a 4, and now balance out at a healthy for me size 8. Fingers crossed.

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re dealing with so many conditions. Balancing multiple conditions and their various treatments is a real challenge. Best of luck to you, and take good care of yourself!

  • I love your writing, Margaret. It’s so heartfelt and truer than true.

    Like a lot of other commenters, this line really hit home for me: “A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you.” I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for years, and when I met my now-husband, I told myself that I wouldn’t make him my crutch when I hit a low spell. It’s a harder promise to keep than to make, but I’m really glad that he’s always understood that there’s only so much support he can offer me, that he’s very aware of his limitations and doesn’t try to Fix Everything. I got really offended this past winter when he asked me if I thought I should go back into counseling, but realized later after we talked about it that it was actually pretty wise for him to realize that there are some things I need a mental health professional for and there are some lines I have to draw so that our relationship stays equal. (I still haven’t made that appointment yet, but after reading this post, I’m a lot closer to picking up the phone and doing it.)

    Also? Your use of “sisyphean” made me want to kiss you! :) *is a former Classicist*

    • Ha, oh Sharon, for some reason that I will never understand, my mother is so, so heartbroken about the following:

      1) That I did not look at my 2.3 in Intermediate Latin as the warning shot that it was and continue on to somehow major in Classics.
      2) That I did not, then, go on to get a PhD in Classics.

      Some parents pressure their children to be lawyers or doctors or MBA students. Mine wanted me to be a Classicist.

      But I still can’t resist busting out a little Latin or fake Latin when given half a chance.

      • Ha! That’s hilarious. Definitely not a career path that most kids get pressured into… but you can’t say your mom didn’t think highly of you. Classics grad programs are hard as heck! (Which is pretty much why I didn’t go in that direction!)

  • TJ

    I keep re-writing my comment so as not to have it come off as bizarre/morbid/wrong, but what each draft boils down to is this:

    I lost two grandparents much too soon, because they were too stubborn and too tired to keep taking care of themselves; we all miss them desperately every day.

    Please be vigilant in taking care of yourself, and managing your diabetes. Not just for you, but for your family (who sees even more clearly than we ever could through just your writing), that the world would be a worse place without you in it.

    • Oh, don’t feel bad. Honestly, it scares me a lot too sometimes. To me the biggest long term worry is burnout. But right now I have enough work to do that I just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

  • kaitlyn142

    I need to bookmark this page and come back to it. I have not being doing nearly well enough at managing my own chronic health problems. My partner is super supportive, but it’s up to me to do the exercises I need in order to do little things like, oh, walk.

  • Jo

    Three things:
    1) I have dealt with chronic illness in two forms for a decade. I have only in the last year or two gotten real diagnoses and started real treatment. The most recent diagnosis is fibromyalgia, which I was handed three weeks ago, and have been so crazy busy that I haven’t had time to start the meds (since I want to do research first). Like other have said, I have known I needed to slow down for a while, and in some ways, having that diagnosis is like a pail of cold water in the face – you realize that it really is in your control to make the situation better or worse. I am incredibly grateful to have a strong, supportive partner, who encourages me to honor my pain and take care of myself. He has made me much more able to confront these medical challenges, which are oh so daunting, just by loving me and believing that I can get better. Being independent is all the easier when you know you have a cheerleader, eh?

    2) This is an incredible post, because it has allowed so many people to “come out” about illnesses that are scary and often hidden (because they are often stigmatized). Where else can you share these huge, important details of life with others so openly? I could not love this site more for opening up the real stuff of life, creating a safe space for people to confess and relate to one another, and allowing for amazing conversations about it all. APW ladies, you are setting the most incredible examples of how community should operate in the world. Thank you.

    3) For everyone else out there battling chronic illness in any form, you are amazing. Every action you take to be as healthy as you can be despite your situation is amazing. Every day you wake up smiling and counting your blessings is a gift you give to yourself. And your willingness to live a full life is inspiring.

  • Emily

    It could be a co-incidence, or just they way you have written your story, but it sounds like your improved diet and exercise have done a lot to improve your mood and your condition (along with medication I’m sure). I really believe this is key to wellbeing on every level.
    Good on you for making the change and keep at it!

    • Emily, it’s funny. It’s very true that I feel a lot better mentally, but it’s so hard to figure out why exactly that is. Lots of things have changed and pinpointing which factor does what is really hard.

      For instance, it’s not related to my mood but all the same: I meet with a nutritionist and I said to her “My appetite has gone way down,” and she said “Well that’s probably because you’re eating so many more vegetables and more fiber, etc.”

      I said the same thing to my doctor and she goes “It’s the Wellbutrin I put you on!”

      That kinda cracked me up.

      Anyway whatever the reason, you’re right, it makes it a LOT easier to do just about everything.

      • Emily

        :-) Whatever it is – yay!

  • Seraphine

    I meant to make a comment sooner, but I just wanted to say as someone who deals with multiple chronic illnesses (which are kinda kicking my butt right now), I really appreciated this post. It was what I needed to read this week. Thank-you.

  • Alexandra

    I have friends with chronic illnesses, and have worried about diabetes, since my mom’s sister has Type 2.
    Great post! Thanks for sharing again, Margaret. Rock on!