Every time February rolls around, and often even before, the world suddenly becomes filled with pink and red hearts and flowers, and whether you are looking forward to it or not, you know that Valentine’s Day is near. As a little girl, I always associated Valentine’s Day with the huge chocolate heart my parents would give me, one that I would savor and nibble on to make it last as long as possible. As I got older, the holiday lost most of its charm for me, with the obligatory gifts, the overpriced dinners out at crowded restaurants, and the feeling that if you weren’t part of a couple, you ought to go into hiding until it was safe to come out.
It’s not that I’m opposed to celebrating love, or the people you love, I’ve just never felt moved to do so on the day Hallmark has set aside for it, even when I’ve been in a relationship. This year is no different, and it’s a good thing because, while I am still happily in a relationship, it’s now a relationship that straddles two continents and a six-hour time difference. The boyfriend has moved to Europe.
As Shakespeare said, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ You can say that again. Apparently, having to contend with the implications of a chronic disease and its impact on a relationship isn’t the only challenge I’ll be facing this time around. Much like I feel that RA ought to come with a ‘get out of colds free’ card, a small part of me also feels it should come with an ‘its complicated’ exemption card. But as life has shown me before, it doesn’t work that way.
About a month ago, my boyfriend packed up and left for Europe to begin a new job. His old one was coming to an end, and the job market being what it is, turning down a great position just because it was far away wasn’t an option that would make sense. After lots of talking and back and forth, we decided to be crazy and give long distance a shot. After all, with video chat, email and texting, the world has shrunk considerably.
Nonetheless, it’s scary to know that you could lose something you treasure so much. Like the giant chocolate Valentine’s heart I got as a child, I found myself savoring and drawing out our last few months together before he left as much as I could. We did an excellent job of making the most out of the remaining time we had here- taking in museums, visiting the monuments in Washington D.C. and going to the opera in New York for Christmas. And we started talking about all the fun things we could do together in Europe when I come to visit.
Which inevitably led to thinking about the possibility of making a move of my own. Immediately, thoughts of the adventures we could have sitting in cafes and traveling around the continent were displaced by the now familiar (and completely annoying) laundry list of RA-related obstacles, chief among them being how I would get my medications if I were to move to another country. How much would they cost? What would I have to do to get them, and what would happen if I couldn’t? How would I navigate a whole other healthcare system? Would another country even let me in with a pre-existing condition? What if my stupid disease made this relationship impossible? The questions and accompanying fears felt endless, and endlessly depressing.
It was hard not to feel completely defeated, and we hadn’t even decided if I would move over there one day, eventually, at some point in the future. But, if I have learned one lesson from having a chronic disease, it’s to take each moment as it comes and not get too far ahead of myself. This is often hard to do. After I was diagnosed, even though I had only been living with RA for a very short time and hadn’t even started biologics yet, my mind was continually skipping ahead ten, twenty, fifty years, and I was convinced they would all be filled with misery and doom. All I could envision for myself were worst possible scenarios that involved excruciating pain, a broken body, a broken spirit and me all by myself. Never mind the fact that I had friends and family surrounding me, so I already wasn’t alone.
Eventually, I realized that there was no way to predict what my life would be like in ten, twenty or fifty years, or even in one year. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. No one can predict the future- whether you have a chronic disease or not. So whenever I catch myself skipping too far ahead into the future, creating obstacles and making assumptions about what is possible or impossible, I stop and take a deep breath and remember to deal with the moment I am in now.
And so, as scary as taking this next leap is, especially given all the extra baggage that RA brings with it, I believe it’s a leap worth taking. Sure, it would be nicer if having RA meant you wouldn’t have to deal with any other obstacles when it comes to matters of the heart, but anything worth having to begin with is worth a leap of faith and some hard work. Besides, you never know what the future might bring, and it would be a shame not to try and find out.
Sara is the author of the blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.