Peter & Eve: letter from a listener

Recently we received this email from Peter in response to Love Me or Leave Me. That’s the episode where Alicia told us how much it sucks to be sick and have a partner stay out of guilt. But sickness can bring people closer together too. We share this story with Peter and Eve’s permission.

I am 26 and my girlfriend, Eve, is 22, we have been together for 2 and a half years. We met at university during our 2nd year. We were introduced by mutual friends at the pub, I ‘flirted’ with her by discussing the (dull) subject of ‘Biofuels’ to which Eve was gracious enough to seem interested / alert. I remember that night how I was struck by the fact she was (and still is) absolutely gorgeous. I recall thinking to myself that evening, that no one that stunning would be interested in me or find me remotely attractive. If nothing else had happened, the fact that someone that pretty spoke to me for that long was a result in my mind.

Noticing my interest towards Eve at the pub our friend asked me the next day ‘So, you like Eve, don’t you?’ I had to agree and thought nothing else of it. Later in the week, the friend said that she was attending Eve’s birthday celebration at a comedy night, I uncharacteristically was very brash and asked if I could come as well, she contacted Eve, it was fine with her, and I was informed of the time and location, (it would have been really difficult otherwise).

So I went along, met her close friends, me and Eve got on really well, we shared the same political ideals (the subject both of us studied). For me the evening was a success! And at the end of the night we had a kiss as I left for home. To cut a long story short, we starting going out, getting on really well, masses in common, a shared sense of humour and still slightly confused to how I had managed to attract such an amazing and gorgeous person.

In our 3rd (and final) year Eve became seriously unwell and from here on out things changed, drastically.  When she became ill, it was considered just your normal ‘sick’, she would be ok in a few days, this was especially my perspective. After a week or so she moved back to the family home (she was living in a flat in Brighton) where her mum and dad could look after her.

Eve was later diagnosed with gastroenteritis. Most people would be better after a week or two, but for Eve this took a sledgehammer to her health. It triggered her chronic fatigue and exacerbated her stomach complaints, she couldn’t eat, sleep, even move on bad days. Over the next few months she lost about 50pounds of weight, all her strength and stamina, she became incredibly sensitive to light, sound and temperature, leaving her practically house bound.

Eve has always struggled with her health, from a very young age she suffered from chronic fatigue and other chronic stomach complaints. So when she did become unwell it wasn’t met with the usual shock or heightened concern that would normally happen when a loved one is unwell.

During the summer in 2011, Eve could only see me for about 1 to 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon. I was about a 90mins drive away so my commute amounted to longer than I could spend with Eve. We wouldn’t say a lot during these meetings I would just hold her and gently explain what I had been up to during the week, I remember leaving and seeing the look of sheer exhaustion on her face just from spending an hour or so with me. Seeing Eve like this, someone I love, is something that was really hard for me. For her family it was familiar but for me I felt powerless and useless. I think I am a supportive and caring person so would want to help in anyway I could, but forced into a place where nothing I could do would help is a frustrating and horrible experience.

This was a really hard time for Eve. I think Eve saw the long periods of time spent unwell as a child were behind her. In the first weeks of being unwell she managed to get a job as a trainee teacher! (that’s just how amazing she is!) But, after being ill for the first 8 weeks of when she was meant to start, she was called in when they informed her they had cancelled her contract. Eve was using her desire to start this new job as a reason to struggle through and get better as soon as possible. In a single phone call she was dealt another sledgehammer to her confidence and emotions. I called her, she was in tears and didn’t want to speak to me, once again I felt powerless to help, no advice I could offer or comforting words would make it better.

Eve has now been unwell for about 18 months and not for one instance have I thought I should end our relationship. I was told by a friend, who also suffered with the same illness as Eve as a child, that I was unusual for sticking with Eve as most people who have a long-term ill partner leave them (especially in the early days of a relationship). Having our year together before Eve became ill, reminded me what an amazing time we have together and although it’s not certain she will ever be the same again, the slightest chance that we can have those times again is enough for me.

Eve is obviously sad about her illness and when she is upset I want to be supportive and positive, in a vain attempt to make her feel better. I felt that I could never tell Eve how her illness is making me feel, even though she does ask how I am doing, so I hide my emotions and have never spoken about it from my perspective. Last week we spoke about how I felt about her illness for the first time and I broke down. We went out for a ‘date’ earlier in the evening for the first time since she became ill and the feelings about the days before she was ill came rushing back, how I miss those times so much, and long for days like those to happen again.

Speaking about how I feel should be touched upon every now and then, but for me it still feels selfish to have any negative emotion about it. I’m not ill, I’m not the one struggling, Eve is, I can’t feel sad about it. I realise that this isn’t the best way to go about things and ignoring these feelings could turn into something I might hold against Eve and I would never want that to happen. Being in a relationship with someone who is ill is difficult. There is no getting away from it, but I am very grateful for what we can do and the strong relationship we have. Going through all this makes me feel we can survive pretty much anything life might throw at us.

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