I felt like I’d damaged the relationship by getting sick, even though I couldn’t help it.

More than once, I’ve seen it suggested that it’s easier not to date a person with a chronic illness, because that person will wind up being a burden on you. 

As someone with a chronic illness, I get it. Dating someone without a chronic illness can be easier — it means you get to stay ignorant towards certain illnesses, you don’t have to be an emotional support when they need you, and you don’t have to watch the person you love being unwell. 

But I take serious issue with the suggestion that people with chronic illnesses are burdens.

I have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and have been in two relationships since being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

During the first relationship, I did feel like a burden. I had no idea I was suffering with the disease for the first year we were together.

It wasn’t until later on, when I had to have emergency surgery, that we understood just how sick I really was.

I felt like I’d damaged the relationship by getting sick, even though I couldn’t help it.

And though he didn’t leave me until 6 years later, he wasn’t very supportive at all. I spent those years feeling bad for every hospital appointment I asked him to come along to, which he refused. I constantly felt like I was letting him down whenever I had to cancel plans because I wasn’t feeling well.

I felt like I had failed as a girlfriend when the steroids I took made me gain a lot of weight. I stopped asking him for anything, or even talking about my chronic illness with him, because I didn’t want to be a burden on him.

But I only felt like a burden because of his unsympathetic reaction to my struggles. 

When you are diagnosed with something life changing, you expect the person you’re with to support you.

You expect them to be there to love and care for you when you need it. You expect them to be your best friend. You expect them to be there for you emotionally, because having a chronic illness can be very detrimental to your mental health.

But all of these things are very normal things to expect in a relationship — it isn’t exclusive to dating someone who’s chronically sick. 

I understand people may be scared to date someone with health problems, but that’s because there’s such misunderstanding around it.

I think people assume they need to turn into carers, but we don’t need carers. We just need normal relationships, where love and care is available. 

Many of those with chronic illness — including me — have become incredibly independent because we have to be.

We’re used to people letting us down. And we’re used to feeling like we’re the ones letting people down, so we manage that by caring for ourselves, and minimizing how much pain we’re in because we’re so scared of being a burden. 

I stopped feeling like I was damaging my relationship by being chronically ill when my first partner and I split.

I went through all of the usual emotions: blaming myself, wondering how I could’ve stopped the inevitable breakup, and how I could have fixed the relationship. I spent ages thinking if I wasn’t chronically sick, maybe it wouldn’t have happened. 

And maybe it wouldn’t have. 

But I realized that if someone couldn’t be with me because I have a chronic health condition, it wasn’t a relationship I needed. 

But despite realizing this, I was still scared to date again. When I met my current partner, and the father of my baby, I remember waiting a couple of weeks to tell him about my health condition.

That’s another thing. You feel like you have to disclose it early on because you feel obligated to give them the option to leave before you’ve even started dating. You set yourself up for rejection so you don’t have to reveal yourself by getting sick later, and risking going through the heartbreak of a breakup later on down the line. 

I wish it wasn’t that way, but for most of us, it is. 

My partner was incredibly supportive as soon as I told him. It wasn’t an issue for him at all. He didn’t even make a big deal out of it. It was just something I lived with, that I couldn’t change. To him, it was just part of the package that he was interested in. 

We’ve been together for 18 months now, and not once has he made me feel like a burden. He has been there through every hospital appointment, every hospital stay, and he looks after me and our baby when I’m not feeling good. He accepts me as I am and never makes me feel like I am letting him down or whether he would be better off without me. 

I wish I had left my last relationship sooner, because I now know what it feels like to be with someone who doesn’t make me feel like there’s a ‘catch’ to dating me. 

And I wish other people with chronic illnesses get to experience that feeling, too. 

To the right person, you are not a burden.

You are someone they love and want to care for when times are bad. And you need to care for them when things are bad for them, too — regardless of whether it’s health-related or not. 

Dating someone with a chronic illness isn’t something you should see as a chore. It’s not something that should put you off of getting to know someone. Because that person might just be the perfect person for you. 

If you’ve put off dating someone because they are chronically ill, you’re not ready for a real relationship. 

A person can fall ill at any point, whether they were ‘healthy’ at the start of your relationship or not. But other things could happen too, that equally need support — you could lose your job, become pregnant, be kicked out of your house.

These are all things that require a person to be emotionally and physically supportive. 

So if you’re someone who is currently put off by dating someone with a chronic illness, reevaluate your idea of a relationship. 

Are you looking for something superficial, where there is no responsibility to support a partner when they need you? Or are you looking for someone you can love fully, develop an emotional connection with, and receive love and support in return? 

I know which one I’d choose.

Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and to encourage others to speak out.