MS, the Permanent Third Wheel: Moving in with My Boyfriend
Everyone is taught that moving in with your boyfriend/girlfriend is a HUGE step. It is something that you have to seriously think about and talk about. You have to be sure that you can see yourself with that person in the future. When you get into an argument, you can’t just get in your car, drive home, and text your girlfriends about how big of a jerk your boyfriend is. You have to talk it out and come up with a solution, learning to compromise. I have been considering, and it has become increasingly real, how serious moving in with my boyfriend is and we finally made that step two weeks ago.
Joining lives with someone else
There are many resources, blogs, websites, and advice columns out there that have guidance when moving in with your significant other. They all say things like make sure you are on the same page about a budget, split the household chores, give each other space, communicate, etc. It is way more than whether or not you have the same favorite toothpaste or who takes the trash out. Moving is a stressful thing in general. Even in the best of circumstances, joining your life with someone else’s always has the potential to be nerve-racking.
Adding MS to the mix
Moving in with your SO and trying to balance MS (or any other disease) throws an extra factor (or ten) into the mix. Society has painted a clear picture of what the perfect girlfriend/wife should be, and MS is not included in that painting. Somewhere between the exhaustion, heat sensitivity, hundreds of prescriptions, MRIs, regular blood work, numbness, and vision loss, many of us feel left out of the image of the “perfect” significant other. It’s important when moving in with your SO that he/she does not look at you as a victim or someone that they are going to have to take care of 24/7, especially as young adults but rather someone that recognizes their own flaws and shortcomings, and loves you in spite of your quirks and imperfections.
Behind the scenes
Jim obviously knows about my MS and the daily steps I take to stay as healthy as I can. The difference now is he sees it firsthand–behind the scenes if you will. I keep an organized weekly pill pouch which he has seen countless times over the course of our relationship. It’s hard to remember when and what to take when I have so many medicines so I’ve found this very helpful. I was sick of carrying numerous pill bottles in my purse and hearing them clacking around in my bag. I also tended to accidentally miss my doses by forgetting a pill bottle at home. With my handy dandy pill pouch I find it much easier to keep track of.
Showing a new side of myself
Every Sunday I refill my pill pouch with the medicines for that upcoming week and put the pill bottles back into the cabinet. I’m prescribed about ten different prescriptions, all with different dosages. I’m supposed to take them at various times of the day, some with food and some without food—for example, I take Tecfidera twice a day on a full stomach, Nexium every morning on an empty stomach, Vitamin D once a week, etc. I’m sure a lot of you can relate to this process. Jim had seen me take my pills out of my pouch an uncountable amount of times, but he never saw how many pill bottles it took to actually fill up my weekly pill pouch. Of course, he is nothing but supportive, but it was just a little surprising to him when he opened up a cabinet and visually saw how many prescriptions I have. I don’t want him to ever look at me as his “sick girlfriend” or someone that he is now forced to take care of on a daily basis, despite the pharmacy that is our cabinet. It didn’t just feel like he was opening my medicine cabinet, I felt like I was being opened up, like I was showing him a new side of myself.
Learning how I cope
We all know that stress exacerbates MS and that it is so important to manage your stressors. I’ve learned a few techniques that help me cope when I feel stressed or anxious. It’s important to ensure your SO is aware of your coping mechanisms. Jim knows I love yoga, writing, photography, and cooking but the other night he witnessed something he hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t sleep, which is a chronic issue for me, especially when I have a lot of things on my mind. When I can’t sleep, I write in my journal.
Respecting my quirks
When I lived in my own room, I could turn on my lamp because I wasn’t bothering anyone. I didn’t want to wake Jim up, so I wrote by flashlight. He eventually woke up and asked why I was awake. He knows I struggle with sleeping frequently but he had never seen me writing like a mad woman in the middle of the night by flashlight. He just told me to keep writing and try to get back to sleep soon. He respects my quirks and understands my coping methods and he’s even given me verbal commitment to do yoga with me in the near future. Maybe just warn your SO if you have a tendency to write in your journal in the middle of the night or get up at 6 AM to do yoga in the living room.
Agreeing on a grocery budget
I understand the importance of eating foods that boost immunity, lower inflammation, and are high in fiber and vitamins. I eat a lot of wild caught salmon, grass fed beef, vegetables, and fruit. I am not perfect though. I still eat cookies when I’m craving sweets and eat fast food on road trips. Jim is the same way luckily. I could see how food might be an issue if you and your SO don’t eat in similar ways. Eating healthy sometimes means racking up more expensive grocery bills, taking longer to cook meals, and going to the grocery store more often. These are all things that should be discussed with your SO before you move in together. Make sure you both agree on the grocery budget, agree that you will take turns going to the grocery store, and make cooking a fun activity for the both of you.
Communicating with your partner
Those of us with MS get tired and lose energy faster than most. It’s important that you communicate how you’re feeling with your partner. If you really don’t think you’re capable of helping him/her carry that couch into your apartment, voice that. Say “hey, can we get Glenn over here to help you with that couch? I’m exhausted.” If the person understands and respects your health, I’m sure he/she will be fine with waiting until a friend can come over to help. If your partner gives you a hard time or tries to push you too hard, maybe think about reconsidering if that person is someone you should be moving in with. When Jim and I were moving his mom was nice enough to come help with the couch, mattress, box spring, and dressers. While they were moving the big things inside I carried in the couch cushions, kitchen supplies, bedding, artwork, etc. It’s all about figuring out the ways you and your SO can cope with this disease together and that includes ways of preserving your energy. It is not easy for me to allow people to do things for me, but I have found it is important to know your limits and appreciate the many ways that you are able to contribute to your relationship.
Sometimes I need help
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, lifelong, incurable disease and I don’t think that should be downplayed. Fear, anger, sadness, and denial are all things you both will experience and you need to be able to rely on each other during these times. Jim and I will go through more than most couples our age. He understands that sometimes we have to miss parties, happy hours, and dinners because I am just too wiped out. Jim knows that there’s a real possibility of me relapsing and losing the majority of my vision for weeks, maybe months. During this time, he will have to help drive me to work, take me to my doctor appointments, pick up medicine I might need from the pharmacy, do all the grocery shopping, and be okay with dating a pirate for a while (I wear an eyepatch when my vision acts up to lessen the skewed vision).
Moving in can strengthen the relationship
Like I said, moving in with your partner is a big deal, there are a lot of factors to consider and topics to discuss but, when handled correctly with the right person, can strengthen and grow the relationship in other ways. When someone in the relationship has a disease like MS, there’s even more things to talk about and consider. It’s important to make sure your SO is aware that he/she will have to take care of you sometimes. Your “roles” in the relationship will probably be shaken a bit. For example, I have been planning our meals for the weeks, we both go to the grocery store together, but then I do about 75% of the cooking. When my MS flares up, Jim will have to take over the role of meal planning and cooking. I don’t want to pressure him or for him to ever think that I expect him to be my primary caretaker. It’s one thing being married to a person who is diagnosed with MS after ten years of marriage and going through the entire journey together. It’s another thing being in your early to mid twenties, dating, and moving in together and asking that of someone.
Accepting the unwanted evil step-sister
It takes a special type of friend and, even more so, a special type of significant other to weather the storm of a chronic illness. MS is a permanent third wheel in your relationship, and it’s important that the person you’re dating understands that and is willing to accept this unwanted evil step-sister. It’s important for your partner to feel like you both are in this together. While he/she is supporting you, driving you places, cooking, doing laundry, that you’re also helping yourself by eating healthy, getting enough rest, taking your medicine, etc. You both need to work on taking care of you. You also have to continually be mindful that while things may be physically and emotionally harder, you are still able to contribute, show your gratitude, say a kind word, and DO WHAT YOU CAN when you can to contribute to the relationship. It helps to remember that while our friends, family, and significant others may not struggle with chronic illness, everyone has struggles and doing what you can to support them is often its own form of therapy, and a confidence booster. I’m lucky enough to live a pretty independent life right now, but I know that when my MS flares up, and I’m forced to dust off that old eyepatch, Jim will be waiting to drive me to work with a pirate hat on himself. I know this because we have had these tough conversations about moving in together, taking this big step into the next stage of our relationship, and what it means living with someone who has MS.