When I began my blog, one of the topics I wrote about often was dating- or rather my lack of dating. Overwhelmed by my diagnosis and the changes it had wrought on my life and body, I put a full stop to romance, but spent lots of time worrying and wondering about what it would be like to be with someone now that I had a chronic disease. Would I ever find anyone who wouldn’t run away screaming when they found out? How would I go about telling a potential suitor that I had a disease with no cure? These questions plagued my thinking and my writing. Luckily, through the gift of technology, I found out I wasn’t alone. There were others like me.
A year after my diagnosis, I decided it was time. I shared some of the ups and downs of my return to dating here and on my blog. Through trial and error, I figured out that hiding my RA wasn’t going to work, and, with much encouragement and support, I let my grand secret slip. A year after I began dating again, I met someone special. When I told him about my RA, he wasn’t scared off. I fell in love, and it all seemed like it was going to work out.
But unfortunately, having a chronic disease as an added complication to one’s love life doesn’t mean that other complications don’t get in the way. There are things like visas and jobs, money and commitment. Eight months into our very happy relationship, he got a job overseas, and suddenly, what had seemed so simple and straightforward became messy and complex.
The job was a good one, and his visa here was running out. In this economy, turning it down wasn’t an option. I began researching healthcare in Belgium. I had long conversations with my rheumatologist about doctors and drugs. The irony that, even while in remission, my RA could still derail and debilitate something really good in my life wasn’t lost on me, or him.
After some trepidation on his part, we decided to try the long-distance. I was determined and knew what I wanted; he was willing to go out on a limb and try it, despite his über-pragmatic sensibilities. We skyped, texted and emailed. Technology again became my new best friend- this time as an extension to what was now distant and far away, a lifeline to what I wanted most. We researched visas. I put out feelers to colleagues about jobs. It seemed like it could all be possible given the universal healthcare. My drugs were available; my rheumatologist knew a good rheumatologist in Brussels. A friend who lived there gave me the rundown on life as an expat. She had faced some health issues of her own, and they hadn’t proven to be an obstacle. It seemed like it could work.
But there is always a catch.
In order to access the healthcare system in Belgium, I would either have to move there with a job, or move there as a wife. The job would take time and on-the-ground networking, but moving there without healthcare- without the drugs that have so far kept me mobile and myself- wasn’t an option. The RA was there, lurking in the background of my immune system, and my future.
I was ready to take the plunge. I lived in Europe once before and was excited at the prospect of a new adventure- this one with a partner by my side. I would have to give up a lot, but I would be gaining so much. Maybe it was my can-do Americanism shining through. I had already learned that life is unexpected and full of obstacles and challenges- nothing good comes easy. In a way, my disease taught me that. Instead of being discouraged by all that we would face, I was optimistic. I was resilient.
Three months after he left, I boarded a train and then a plane and flew across the ocean to see him. We spent a week stuffing ourselves with chocolates, frites and good beer. We toured the country, visited friends and played house. When he worked, I walked the streets by myself, envisioning what life would be like. I knew it would be hard and would take time to adjust, to carve something new out for myself. I wondered if my RA would continue to lie dormant in the background, and what we would do if it reared its head from the stress that would surely accompany such a grand change.
But on one of our last days, on a trip to France, it ended over a beer at a café. I was ready, willing and for the moment, able. He was not. Maybe it was his German pessimism shining through, but the challenges and the commitment were too much. It was too much to ask of me, and too much for him to give. Sometimes, even when we want to believe it can be, love isn’t enough.
I came home and nursed my broken heart. I told my family and my friends and took comfort, oddly enough, in the fact that as hard as this was, learning that I was sick had been harder, even if that pain was now distant and far away. Now, the pain I was feeling had nothing to do with my RA, but I hurt all over just the same. The only prescription for this kind of pain was time, and the knowledge that this, too, would pass.
Sara is the author of the blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.