Between Love and Loneliness- An Account on Chronic
Illness and Relationships By David Orman
“I'm so scared. I've realised that much of my anxiety about how this chronic
health condition is limiting me comes from my unfulfilled romantic needs (I've
never had a girl say she loves me, have no memories to cherish of being
young and in love, feel embarrassed and pathetic to still be a virgin at 28 years old). The problem is I don't feel that I can enter a relationship because my illness means I won't be wanted or accepted by any girl and, besides, it will just add pressure for me to get better quicker. On the other hand, so much of my attempt at recovery depends on happiness and as a sensitive person a lot of my happiness depends on fulfilling a biological need to have physical and emotional contact with a woman; to feel loved. But the fact that it's unfulfilled and can feel like a hopeless struggle to change is driving the cycle of anxiety, desperation and fear. I need to find a girl to be happy and stand any chance of recovery, (the lonely do not recover!) but what girl will want a young man who is limited by chronic illness?
I'm so scared I won't break this cycle without getting more hurt and rejection. But equally I can't live with the loneliness anymore. My mind keeps presenting me with thoughts like “my destiny is surely to take my own life, to become another tragic addition to young male suicide statistics.” I don't want to believe this but I've been fighting such thoughts every day for a long
time now. PLEASE HELP ME! … PLEASE GET IN TOUCH WITH ME AND END THIS LONELINESS FOR ME. PLEASE, A MILLION TIMES, PLEASE TO INFINITY PLEASE LET THIS HAPPEN!” ~ Extract from my Recovery Journal.
The condition I have suffered from for a decade is called Fibromyalgia. Often it can seem like every unpleasant physical sensation imaginable is attacking a ‘fibro’ sufferer every day of their life. I was diagnosed at eighteen years old but had lived with some of the symptoms for a couple of years prior to the diagnosis. When I researched the condition and realised its implications, both my inner and outer worlds fell apart.
Overnight dreams and aspirations, of being a guitarist and completing a
degree in philosophy, were annihilated. I had no choice but to quit my
part time job and my university. Opportunities to socialise disappeared
entirely. Very quickly I became very lonely.
My only contacts outside my family were the health professionals I saw,
each one I hoped would offer me a way out of this seemingly incurable,
But every time I heard the same thing; Fibromyalgia is a life-long condition. You'll just have to learn to manage it.”
Seeing many of the specialists made me feel hopeless. I realised I needed to take responsibility for improving my own health. I stayed away from doctors, who openly admitted they could offer little or no interventional help, and instead became very involved in health and wellbeing disciplines such as the Alexander Technique, which looked at reducing pain through improving movement, addressing the neuromuscular habits that contributed to muscular tightness and fatigue. Eventually, and with a lot of hard work, I slowly began to reduce the intensity of my physical symptoms but they still remained enough to keep me trapped in the cycle of extreme loneliness, bitterness, depression and anxiety. There were no relationships for me, I was in a state of ‘relationless’. Because, as well as social isolation, nobody I knew could relate to what I was enduring, how frightening and seemingly mysterious my symptoms were. I felt so different from everyone else, as if I were an alien. I had lost so many things that make a person human, like social contact, the pleasure of touch, optimism for the future, and opportunities to give and receive love.
All throughout this time my one hope was love. I knew of the love that
I was capable of, if only I could break out of the prison that my mind and body had put me in, seemingly for a life sentence.
On the other hand, even love led me to view life through such a bitter lens. Whenever I saw couples holding hands or hugging I experienced intense jealousy. Jealousy that I was so lonely, that I was completely defined by my illness and what was pleasurable physical contact for everyone else was physically uncomfortable or painful for me. I would experience anger when I saw couples arguing with each other, the aggression between them being so strong it was as if they'd forgotten that they were lucky to have each other.
However, the bitterness I experienced from watching others was nothing like the bitterness I was about to experience
Throughout 2016-2017 I had developed intense feelings towards a girl who I'd encountered through my interest in health and wellbeing. Although I felt many people would agree she was attractive, from my perspective, having been isolated and without any contact with women for a decade, it seemed as if my sensitivity and appreciation towards her beauty was intensified. I became besotted with her. Thinking that love was finally within my reach, I became extra motivated to improve my symptoms but even with this powerful emotional drive, progress remained difficult.
About eighteen months passed in which I desperately tried to improve my symptoms, with my aim being to improve to a point where I no longer felt defined as a person, as a man, by illness, so that this girl would accept me and hopefully love me. Yet the improvements in my health just wouldn't come. I felt stuck with them.
Eventually I couldn't hold these intense feelings from her anymore. I dared to believe that this was my destiny, the reward for all the lonely battles I had fought, lost and won, the private victories against chronic illness giving me courage.
So I told her how I felt and asked her out.
Finally, at the age of twenty seven, I had reached a point where I could tell a woman I loved her that I wanted to be with her and ask her out!
She said no.
I'd been rejected.
In that moment it seemed like everything I'd worked for, to just try
and get back to 'normal’ as I had painfully reconstructed what I could of my internal and external worlds, came crashing down.
I felt destroyed.
I thought back to when I was eighteen, on the day I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I remembered lying on my bed in total darkness, sobbing, feeling as if I'd been “buried alive.” Now, a decade later, I was again lying on my bed, crying my eyes out and feeling “dead and buried.”
This was the final straw. I felt this condition had ruined or been the biggest factor in denying me everything I loved. First the guitar, sports and my university studies, then friendships, it had depleted my finances… and now the love I cherished and believed in the most, the love that had been both inspiration for long overdue happiness and love as a crutch to find any small reason to get out of bed and persevere, my love of a woman, had been rejected.
As I bitterly reflected on why I'd been rejected I began to consider what kind of person I presented to the world. I felt a massive contributory factor to rejection was because I couldn't be the person I knew I was. My warmth, sense of fun and happiness had been suffocated by persistent symptoms. The brief moments of inspiration, when I felt in touch with my true self, had been hidden from the small group of people I had any regular contact with. To the eyes of everyone else I must have been pitiful. A nice guy, a decent looking guy maybe, but a guy to be pitied nonetheless. A guy made boring because illness stopped him from doing anything young people wanted to do. How many girls like boring guys with chronic illnesses? If she rejected me then every girl would reject me, surely?
I reflected that my illness, Fibromyalgia, typically affected not just people much older than me but especially women. I had been told that it was extremely rare to be a young man and have Fibromyalgia. I bitterly contemplated how this unlikely illness ruined me both as a young person and a man. I brooded on how it was perhaps more socially acceptable to be a woman with this type of condition; it's fair to say that, whether we like it or not, society still conditions men to believe that they are meant to be strong in relationships and family life and that brings pressure. I felt weak, like I couldn't enter a relationship because I had little strength to offer.
I now completely realised that my personality, my entire life and being was suffering from Fibromyalgia.
I was my illness.
And, after a decade of trying to improve, I had now given up. There was no escape. I would not experience love. I would not ever get married. I would not have children, because even if the opportunity to do so came, what use would I be as a father if I couldn't provide for my kids, to not be able to drive them to school, to be so uncomfortably tender and in pain that to play with them, pick them up or hug them would be a fearful thing to do, a trigger to my symptoms. I knew that again I would suffer for wanting to show simple acts of love and affection.
Not for the first time during these ten years of illness I became trapped in suicidal thoughts. I had become so anxious and demotivated I could not be bothered to go out of the house anymore. My days were spent listening to brooding, aggressive, chaotic music whilst crying my eyes out with sadness, rage and frustration.
I remember one day, shortly after my 28th birthday, I was at home, alone as I usually was on weekdays. I saw we had a couple of bottles of wine in the house and I remember looking at them thinking, “If I drank them along with all the paracetamol we have I could actually be free of all this misery once and for all.” I spent a few minutes thinking what the process of dying in this way would be like and it didn't seem frightening. It seemed preferable to going on fighting a losing battle. In that moment I really was preferring the prospect of death to the prospect of living…
Then, all at once, the horror of exactly how I was thinking took hold and I shut myself away in the bathroom and began crying and shivering. This must have lasted about thirty minutes. I realised I did not want to think this way, that I prided myself on my tenacity and I refused to die before I had experienced the love of a woman, the love of our children and the love of my life.
I reached out to some contacts I had in the health and wellbeing community, explained my situation, and eventually found The Chrysalis Effect.
I realised that although I'd tried many different treatments and health and wellbeing disciplines for improving my symptoms, I'd never approached the situation from a holistic approach before, nor did I ever have access to the daily support that the practitioners on the programme could offer. I was quickly convinced that this programme offered my best chance of recovery, that there were a number of factors that contributed to the onset of symptoms and that the solution is about cracking the code, that recovery is a constructive daily practice that must involve examining many areas of health, without exception, in a holistic way.
Still how could this programme help in dealing with my loneliness and the upset at my experience of rejection? Things became clearer when I learnt that there is a particular profile of person that suffers from chronic conditions. They have traits that can be identified on the Highly Sensitive Person spectrum. I realised I'm a very sensitive man, that I feel emotions very deeply. This made so much sense to me, it explained why I felt so intense about love, why loneliness was so devastating for me, the reason why these two strong emotions combined were overwhelming me, constantly dominating my every thought and action. The love I had to give to others meant the world to me.
But, by directing all of my love on somebody else, whilst believing that the only thing I had when I was alone was my loneliness, I was definitely creating a stumbling block for my improvement, because it blinkered me from examining ways in which I could direct some of that love towards myself. The relentless symptoms of Fibromyalgia had made me believe that because I had a chronic illness I could not be loved, that I wasn't worth loving. How is recovery possible when someone says things like that to them-self every day?
Of course, there are lots of other aspects of recovery that the
programme has led me to examine during the previous six months
and recovery work is not easy, as my journal entries reveal. But
slowly I'm making progress. The programme has made me believe
that I can recover, and that as the recovery process gathers
momentum I shall remove the loneliness and find love. That
motivates me massively. I may have to wait a little longer for love
but I know that it's worth fighting for, worth recovering for.
“I already know what my happiest moment in life shall be. It will be
when I am not just symptom free but feel even better than before my
illness. It will be when I can hold hands with a woman I love without
wanting to pull away from her due to the muscle tenderness and
discomfort. It will be when physical contact is a pleasure and not a pain. But most of all it will be when I can hear the woman I love look at me and say “I love you” and know that I am lonely no longer.” ~ Diary extract.
David is currently hoping to gradually begin a career working in health, wellbeing and chronic illness recovery by using different approaches including the Alexander Technique.
Thank you so much David for openly sharing this with the community, when you put yourself out there you just never know who’s life you may touch and ultimately change.
We cannot wait to support you on your journey and cheer you on every step of the way.