When I began brainstorming blog topics, I had this idea that I could write one blog on living with chronic pain. Thinking back, however, I realize that in all of 2011, I had only one pain-free month. Even in January 2011, before I had any inkling of what lay in store for me, I had already begun to develop symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and I dealt with pain every day. Chronic pain is such a giant part of my life now that I could hardly write one single entry on it and call that good. Instead, I want to start off today with a discussion of chronic pain and intimacy, and continue on in the next few weeks to talk about chronic pain and its relation to a number of important processes and people in our daily lives.
So, let's talk today about something really awkward: S-E-X! But that's not all. Really, this conversation is about staying intimate when you feel like a big sore, swollen cow.
My boyfriend, henceforth referred to as The BF, and I have been in some sort of relationship together for almost four years now. For the last year and a half, we've been committed to a long-term dealio. That's all well and good, but part of committing to a long-term dealio is the willingness to be close and intimate. That doesn't always mean sex, of course, though the big S is part of intimacy, to be sure. Intimacy is being close, cuddling, sharing feelings and experiences, and all that happy sappy junk.
I joke because I care. Intimacy is a big thing for me, and since the onset of this vicious arthritis, it's something I haven't been able to balance very well. How do I share my feelings and experiences with this awful disease? How can we possibly stay close and cuddly when I feel so immensely overtaken by the pain I experience every minute of every day? The BF certainly doesn't know or cope with the same things I do. He can see my pain, and he may grasp that it's severe, but how could he have any idea what I'm actually feeling every morning when he needs to lift me out of bed?
It's not his fault. Please realize this about your own relationships. It's not your significant other's fault. Unless he/she has been through EXACTLY what you're dealing with now, there is absolutely no way for your S.O. to understand the effort it takes to live with chronic pain. The BF has been with me every single day since the initial diagnosis in August, and it took me this long to realize that in order to connect with him, I needed to share. When I'm so grouchy that I rival a honey badger in extreme grumpiness, poor BF doesn't understand my reasons for being that way unless I take the time to talk.
One of the reasons chronic pain is so pervasive in ruining any sort of intimacy is that it is so able to just eat up your entire day in an instant. And why not? When every routine of your day is dictated by your pain, it can become an overwhelming factor in your life. Sometimes I spend entire days in bed because getting up and dressed requires both The BF's help and an excessive amount of time. When I feel that badly, the last thing I want to do is be intimate. Sex, and any related intimacy, feels like an effort that I just can't make. And I don't make that effort if I feel I can't. Remember, please, that this pain is NOT YOUR FAULT. If your partner is upset with your inability to remain sexually active through the pain, he/she probably needs to listen a touch more to your needs, or you probably need a new partner.
I'm lucky, because The BF is a kind and understanding guy. He has witnessed the entire progression of my arthritis, and has been a crucial part of every attempt at pain relief. He gets it, and he understands that intimacy sometimes has to take a backseat to whatever's going on inside my crazy body. I would imagine that if your relationship has progressed to the point where you are able to call your partner a significant other, your S.O. is probably kind and understanding too. So give him/her some love, and don't forget that it's not your S.O.'s fault if they can't quite understand where your anger/sadness/woe is me/etc. is coming from.
When sex isn't exactly an option, as in my case, the best thing you can do is keep the communication lines open. Sex is not the only way to have a close and intimate relationship. Take the time to talk with your partner. Talking about your illness can be incredibly difficult, but it's not only healthy and healing for you, but also crucial in maintaining your relationship. Sometimes I have days and nights that are so horrible I burst into tears at the slightest irritation, which only makes me more irritated and more upset. Those days, I know something's up and The BF knows something's up, and we have to make time to sit and talk about why my behavior might be more volatile than Lindsay Lohan's.
There are other little things you can do to stay close. Sometimes cuddling sucks when you're in unbearable pain, but sometimes it's doable. When it hurts too much to get sexy, keep your relationship sexy by maintaining some semblance of bodily contact. Plus, cuddling is incredibly comforting and often relaxes me to the point that I end up feeling a little less insane with pain (Check that rhyme...awesome). Hold hands when you can. Allow your partner to do something nice for you! I have trouble with my arthritis because I'm often unwilling to admit that there are things I just can't do without incurring the wrath of hopelessly swollen joints. The BF really likes to cook for me, or do some chores when I can't, and sometimes I'm a jerk and complain about it. Don't be that way. If your partner wants to do something nice, allow it! It's his/her way of being caring, understanding and yes, intimate.
I feel like I spent this post rambling, because there's just so much to say. Let's recap and see if we can gather something worthwhile:
- Staying close and intimate is a huge struggle when dealing with chronic pain
- It's not your partner's fault, nor is it your fault, when your pain interferes with your relationship
- Keep communicating! This is the most important key to staying close through the pain
- Allow cuddling and kind gestures to be a part of your lives together.
That's a wrap for today, but I have many more discussions coming up in the next few weeks. I would like to discuss another key in intimacy and chronic pain: self esteem. I also have two guest posts planned, so get excited for those interesting perspectives!