RA and Relationships: Introducing Your Significant Other to Your Medication
As a child, I was taught many valuable skills and lessons including good manners, that all actions and choices have consequences, and of course, how to share. As I got older, I also learned how to be independent, self-sufficient and resourceful- abilities that proved to be vital when I got sick. I was single and living all by myself in a city that takes no prisoners, and though I had wonderful support from friends and family, being on my own shaped my experience of being sick, and in turn, shaped me. Being ‘single and independent’ even became my brand as I began blogging and writing about my experiences with RA on The Single Gal’s Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis. The name of my blog often inspired pithy inquiries of what I would call it once I wasn’t single anymore. I always laughed these questions away, after all, I wasn’t dating and had grown comfortable and confident being on my own with no plans to change that any time soon.
Suddenly though, I’m not so single anymore. While being in a relationship certainly doesn’t mean I’m no longer my independent self, it does mean I have to learn the rules of sharing again, and for the first time, that includes sharing my rheumatoid arthritis. Now that I’m almost three years into my journey with RA and am managing it fairly well (knock on wood), much of it feels very routine to me. Each morning after breakfast, I swallow a handful of pills. Ditto after dinner. Twice a week, I go to my closet and get out my shooting up accoutrement, set up my shot and then wait for it to warm up a little while I watch some TV. What started out as a major hurdle a few years ago is now an almost blasé habit . . . to me.
Having an audience changes the game, though. It drives home that what has become normal for me isn’t for most people my age, including my boyfriend. Once my RA was out in the open, I realized I needed to start bringing my routine out in the open instead of hiding it behind closed doors. After all, if someone is going to be a part of my life, they need to be comfortable with everything in it, and for me, that includes knocking back a fistful of pills twice a day, among other things.
At first, exposing my RA routine made me feel a little self-conscious. What if he was weirded out by it all? What if I was? I decided the easiest way to start sharing this part of my life was to make a sarcastic joke every time I reached for my bottle of pills, so I began referring to it as my ‘geriatric moment’. Fortunately, it worked, and watching me swallow five pills didn’t scare him away. Now, it feels like it has become a part of our routine together. In fact, he’s gotten really good at reminding me to take them.
Shooting up for the first time in front of my boyfriend, however, took more than a wisecrack to make me feel ready. I have given myself a shot in front of other people before- my mother wanted to see me do it so she would know what it was like, but I have never ever shot up in front of someone I was involved with romantically. For a long time, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to.
Let’s face it. For the uninitiated, needles are still scary little suckers that are best left relegated to doctor’s office visits, and even then, only when absolutely necessary. They aren’t something that most people associate with living rooms after dinner on a quiet Sunday evening. And even though I have been inoculated against needle-phobia, I knew that my boyfriend likely had not, and that watching me stick myself with one might produce a variety of responses from being freaked out to grossed out, or worst-case-scenario, to walking out.
After all, needles are not casual. You don’t shoot yourself up with crazy meds on a regular basis if you don’t have something bad. If you get a cold, you don’t hop over to the drugstore to pick up some injectable cold medicine- you get cough syrup or some tiny little pills to swallow. Needles are serious business, and I knew that watching me might make someone question how serious they wanted to be with me. Then there is the added fact that squeezing a hunk of your thigh so you can prick it is just not a very flattering or attractive thing to do unless your thighs are the size of Posh Spice’s, which mine are undeniably not. I may have once humorously likened shooting up to being a ‘Nurse Nancy’ kind of moment, but don’t be fooled- anyone who’s done it knows the reality is not sexy in any way.
Nonetheless, if our relationship was going to continue, it was inevitably going to have to happen. Since I knew how I felt about it, I brought this fact up one afternoon to find out how he felt about it. While he didn’t seem to mind the idea of me shooting up so much, he did confess he isn’t a fan of needles, so when the time came, instead of sitting next to me at my shooting up station in front of the couch, he sat at my desk. I’ll be honest in that it definitely felt weird and a little vulnerable to do this in front of him, but he took it in stride. The only part that made him wince was when I told him that injecting the medicine itself, rather than the needle, hurts.
And then, just like that, it was over. He didn’t run screaming out the door, and I didn’t feel like a freak show. One more hurdle cleared.