I was 19 when my therapist informed me I was on the borderline personality disorder (BPD) spectrum. The following year, I received a diagnosis of Takayasu’s vasculitis, a rare blood vessel disease that causes the large arteries in my body to weaken and become damaged, making it difficult to carry blood to the heart.
Both of these conditions have had a profound impact on a number of aspects of my life, including my ability to have steady, healthy relationships.
Dating with the demanding, often debilitating symptoms of chronic illness can feel overwhelming and alienating. But the fact is, I’ll likely live with both conditions for the rest of my life. So, it’s been important to figure out what works for me when it comes to dating.
Below are my top four tips that have helped me navigate the dating scene while living with a chronic illness.
Be transparent from the beginning
It’s important to be open and honest in the early stages of dating about your condition. Yes, it can be difficult to disclose such personal information about your health to a complete stranger, but it’s a crucial part of your life journey. And the reality is not everyone is equipped to try to go down that road with you.
The unfortunate result of Takayasu’s is far from pretty, so I like to prep the person I’m dating with about the reality of my diagnosis when I feel like the time is right.
Yes, it’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable. But simply put, it’s something that can’t be changed or ignored.
Ultimately, being honest about your condition can save both you and the other person time and energy when it comes to expectations about a potential relationship.
Set hard boundaries for yourself
Physically and emotionally, I know what I’m capable of doing. I have to be honest with myself — and the person I’m dating — about this.
As far as Takayasu’s is concerned, for example, I can’t stand for long periods of time, be around smoke, or stand near speakers, as these things can trigger painful symptoms.
I love concerts, but as a first date they’re usually out of the question, because I can’t assume the other person would understand how to advocate for me in that specific environment.
So, for first dates I usually suggest something low risk, with access to food, drinks, and seats.
In short, it’s important for you to be clear about what your limitations are and be transparent with the other person about what this will mean for your relationship.
Check in with your partner
Everybody has their own set of personal needs that deserve attention and care. For that reason, I try to stay mindful of my romantic partner’s perspective and frequently check in so I know how I can best show my support for them.
I like to kick off every conversation with, “How are you feeling?” This works as a temperature check of their mental well-being and acts as a way to gauge whether it’s the right time to express what’s going on with me.
Put yourself first
My happiest relationships have always been when both myself and my partner were allowed to put ourselves first.
Having both BPD and Takayasu’s vasculitis has really pushed me to focus on all aspects of myself and make sure I’m tending to my needs on a mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual level.
Because if I’m not properly looking after myself, how am I supposed to give what’s needed in a relationship? The same goes for my partner. Nobody can pour from an empty cup.
The bottom line
Dating after being diagnosed with BPD and Takayasu’s has forced me to shift my perspective when it comes to being considerate – not just of my own needs, but the needs of the people who choose to invest their time and energy towards me. I try my best to not let unwanted stress seep into my already exhausting circumstances, which means being honest and upfront about my conditions early on.
I know that I have to set hard boundaries early, which can be uncomfortable even though it’s totally necessary. And while I know that putting myself first is vital, I’m also aware that I need to check in on the well-being of the person I’m currently dating.
Devri Velazquez is a writer and content editor for Naturally Curly. As well as being open about life with a rare autoimmune disease, she’s passionate about body positivity, spiritual and cultural awareness, and intersectional feminism. Reach her on her website, on Twitter, or on Instagram.