I understand firsthand the challenges of being a single woman with a chronic illness. On a practical note, the burden of financial support, household chores, and car repairs falls entirely on you. On a romantic note, finding intimate emotional support is more challenging as your closest girlfriends get married themselves and are less available for marathon venting sessions.
I chose to remain unmarried until I was 30. I respect that this isn’t the right decision for everyone. I respect that there are those who desire a life partner at a much younger age and who choose to grow within that relationship rather than as a single person. I also respect that some of those desiring a mate struggle with loneliness since they have not yet found their own person. I respect these feelings even though they are so very different from my own.
I never wanted to marry young. To quote my favorite Dixie Chicks lyrics, “My friends from high school/married their high school boyfriends/Moved into houses/in the same zip codes where their parents live/But I, I could never follow.”
I always knew that I wanted to take the long way around. I had seen the unique challenges of marrying young and decided that I didn’t want to settle down until I had gained valuable work experience, cultivated growing friendships, and lived in new places. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable on my own so that when I did choose to marry one day, I would know it was because I wanted (and not because I needed) that partner – especially since I had been diagnosed with a chronic illness.
What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the greatest challenge of all – the opinions, judgments, and assumptions bestowed upon me as a single woman by some of the married folks:
- The opinion that I was inferior to other woman my age because I was unmarried.
- The judgment that I had it easier because I had neither husband nor children.
- The assumption that my life had not yet begun because I was still longing for my prince charming.
What I wished for people to understand was that I had earned every one of my 30 years. They were not worth any less than those of my married counterparts simply because I was unattached. In fact, I actively looked for opportunities to push myself outside of my comfort zone and to face my fears. It was never easy, but I was rarely lonely because I also cultivated some of my most fulfilling relationships as a single person.
(And the most character-building part of all? Well, when that one basement apartment I rented suffered a rodent infestation, there was no man around to trap and dispose of them for me!)
So, here’s my point: In addition to all the normal responsibilities of adulthood, I also had the trial of living with an invisible, chronic, autoimmune disease.
This meant that I was responsible for obtaining my own health insurance and paying for my own procedures and prescriptions. It meant lying awake in the middle of the night, deciding whether my symptoms were severe enough that I should drive myself to the emergency room. It meant speaking up for myself alone on doctor’s appointments when we couldn’t agree about my diagnosis and I felt bullied.
These are challenges for even a healthy individual with a strong, supportive partner, so how can you, the single woman with a chronic illness, cope with these challenges successfully?
- Educate yourself. You are your number one health advocate, so seek out experts on your diagnosis, research the latest information about treatment, and learn what you can expect to experience physically, mentally, and emotionally. Become confident in your rights as a patient and prove to yourself the value of seeking a second opinion when something doesn’t feel right about the first.
- Practice self-care. Remember that you are responsible for taking care of yourself, so explore what you need to do to feel your best. Resist the urge to eat junk food or to skip physical healthy activity because you think you don’t have someone else to impress. Know your limitations, manage your stress, and stop feeling guilty when others think you should have more energy just because you are single.
- Don’t suffer in silence. Isolation is known to worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, but it can be hard to know whom to trust with the intimate details of illness. One of the reasons it can be helpful to make it known that you suffer from a chronic disease is beacause doing so takes away some of the mystery when you need to call in sick to work or skip a social engagement because of a flare-up. You can decide the level of information that feels appropriate to reveal to employers and acquaintances while still protecting your privacy.
- Connect with others. If you’re feeling disconnected from your peers since your nights on the town were traded for days spent in bed, try looking elsewhere for companionship. Older ones make excellent mentors and younger ones can give you a much-needed boost of energy. Look for those who offer you their understanding, not their pity. Sometimes this means working with a trained therapist or joining a local support group since you are also in best position to help other singles with chronic illness.
- Find your purpose. There is a huge identity crisis that accompanies a chronic illness diagnosis, but it’s important not to let it define you. You don’t have to change your character, values, goals, and dreams, but an adjustment to your plan for accomplishing these things may be needed. Sometimes it’s just a small detour, but other times it’s a major overhaul. After all, managing a chronic illness is a full-time job and no easy task, but with the right support and resources, you can tackle it successfully!
- Rely on a higher power. Even with the best attitude, self-care, and friends, the nature of chronic illness lends itself to some long and dark nights, filled with anxiety and uncertainty. Believing in something bigger than your limited human experience gives perspective to your circumstances and can provide support that you may not previously have recognized was available. Another of my favorite verses says about a higher power:
[He] never tires out or grows weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the tired one
And full might to those lacking strength.
[Even young ones] will tire out and grow weary,
And […] will stumble and fall,
But those hoping in [him] will regain power.
They will soar on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary;
They will walk and not tire out.
Chronic illness doesn’t have to be lonely just because you are unmarried. Even when you are hoping for the added benefits of a marriage partner in the future or if you are already married but could use some more understanding, there is a community of other women with chronic illness looking to support one another in the challenges and to celebrate with one another after the victories. Click here to learn more about the Chronic Wellness support group.
Comment below to share your strategies for coping with chronic illness as a single woman.