I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason, so I have no doubt that being diagnosed with Lyme disease changed my life for the better. As hard as it has been to believe sometimes, it really has pushed me into a much healthier lifestyle. But it's definitely come with hardships along the way.
Take dating, for example—it's hard enough as it is! Take that, and throw a curveball like chronic illness in there, and it can get really complicated really quickly. Sometimes, as I've learned, the most tangled of circumstances can teach you the most valuable lessons. Here are the three most meaningful ones I've learned from dating with Lyme disease.
1. I've learned to stop feeling guilty.
We often feel a sense of guilt when we don't meet our own expectations for how we "should" be, and start to blame ourselves. Dating is a tough situation that makes you vulnerable, and you always want to be looking and feeling your best when you're out there in the world. The last thing you want to do is bring problems to the table.
There were so many times I powered through a dinner or a movie or struggled to finish a hike when I was in excruciating pain. I should have been honest about how I felt, but I didn’t want to seem weak, and I never wanted to use Lyme as an excuse for not doing something.
I was trying to ignore the issue of having Lyme, which resulted in feelings of guilt and shame. Only when I started accepting Lyme as a part of me without judgment was I was able to release the guilt. Lyme is a part of who I am—good or bad—and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Frankly, if someone was going to think differently about me because of Lyme, that would've made my decision to move on a lot easier.
With more compassion, understanding, and love for myself, I was able to release the unrealistic expectations I had set, take ownership of my current situation, and liberate myself from guilt and shame.
2. I've learned to trust myself.
Lyme has helped me foster a healthy relationship with my body. I always felt compelled to explain my illness to guys I dated. Whether I'm eating a certain way, drinking bone broth, or being a stickler about my rest and how much stress I take on, I always felt like I had to justify my choices. Being in a relationship, it’s common to want to help each other or try to understand one another. Often, though, that can lead to a lot of questioning and self-doubt.
Whether or not a potential suitor's intentions were good, the questions about my health led me to start doubting how I really felt. I noticed that I soon began to question my own health: “Am I making this up?” “Is he right—is it really that bad?” “Do I really feel sick or is this all in my head?”
I had to take a step back and focus on my relationship with myself. You know yourself better than anyone else. Your feelings are always valid. I learned to trust myself and my feelings. I learned that I didn’t need validation—the way I felt was good enough. If I wasn't feeling well, then that was that. I didn’t need to explain myself. It taught me to trust my feelings and move forward.
3. I've learned to love myself without condition.
Battling a chronic illness, you’re faced with a lot of ups and downs and unexpected changes. What I’ve learned (and am still learning) is to wholeheartedly love myself throughout it all. This means accepting where my body is, physically and mentally, at any given point. This was always easier for me when I was single because I never had to share my life with anyone; my feelings dictated the pace of my life.
When you’re dating, things change. In new relationships, at least for me, I always felt like I had to be on point. That meant looking and feeling my absolute best. This quickly prompted an unhealthy relationship with my body because I’d become frustrated, angry, and depressed on the days I wasn’t feeling well. Again, if I wasn’t living up to those crazy expectations I had set for myself, I felt like a failure.
The only remedy for this is to love myself unconditionally. That means fully accepting and appreciating my body with all of its imperfections on good days and bad days. I’ve learned that loving myself completely is a prerequisite to loving anyone else.
A solid relationship with yourself is a powerful foundation that will support you for life, regardless of your health. It wasn’t until I completely surrendered and accepted Lyme as a part of me that I was able to fully invest in the healing process. Every relationship I’ve had has taught me about myself and, ultimately, has helped me manifest a healthy relationship with myself. And that's the most important one of all.