Friday, February 4, 2011

Love & Relationships

Oh, my poor, poor ex-boyfriends. How I feel for them all...

My last boyfriend and I were together in '08-'09, when my health started to take a sharp turn right into the pits. With no proof from any doctors or labs that I was legitimately, physically ill with Lyme disease, thyroid disease and chronic bacterial and viral infections, I had no ground on which to stand with the unwitting lad. 

"I'm tired," became my catch phrase. Although, I got savvy with other claims: "I have chronic fatigue syndrome." Or, when I neared my period, "I have pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. It's real. Google it."

The only scientific proof I had on which to back up my chronic malaise was that I had lots of allergies, and I suffered from anxiety disorder. Well, those things aren't gonna get a girl a lot of sympathy or patience. And to be frank, I wasn't forgiving of myself either. I neither forgave nor accepted that I couldn't do the "normal" things other 20-somethings do, like dance, get drunk, stay up all night, go on backpacking excursions, or wear high heels, without paying serious consequences during or afterwards. Instead, I pushed myself into all of these activities, because I started to believe--like the doubters--that I had no excuse not to at my young age.

And so, when this particular boyfriend and I discovered a stunning, serene path around a large reservoir not too far away, we decided it would be fun to go biking along the 10-mile path. I borrowed a friend's bike, purchased a cheap helmet at Target, and excitedly met my boyfriend at the trail, never stopping to question whether I'd be capable of such a feat. All my friends rode bikes, and I used to ride my bicycle all the time when I was a little girl! It's easy, right?

I think I lasted three minutes. Just as soon as we approached the slightest incline, my legs gave out. My heart rate had surely entered into a medically dangerous zone, as I gasped for any oxygen I could get. My vision blurred and my head throbbed. I abruptly got off the bike, but I couldn't stand on my own two feet. I couldn't even feel that I
had any feet. Or legs. Everything below my waist was jelly--and twitching like a ferocious jelly fish.

Two years later, that helmet is still tucked away in my trunk, untouched.

I think that men perceive me as athletic, only because I have a slim build. One man even hit on me once--at a bus stop of all places--with the pick-up line, "You must work out," proceeded by a creepy staredown of my body.

"No, I don't," I quipped.

My exes have all been athletic, which creates certain challenges in a relationship. The bicycling beau was also rather social, spending minimal time at his apartment and always building on his vast pool of friends. As someone who could get by on four hours of sleep and plan three social events in one night, he was on the opposite energy spectrum as me. That posed challenges, too. But I tried to go to as many of his myriad friends' birthday parties as I could, even if I was light-headed, nauseous and irritable as heck.

Other times, when I couldn't make myself go, I'd skip out at the last minute. I'll never forget when then-boyfriend, who was a software engineer for Facebook, asked me to accompany him to his boss Mark Zuckerberg's birthday party on a work night. I had just gotten home from a full work day, was feeling incredibly exhausted, irritable and anxious, and just wanted to lay on my couch, so I passed on the invite.

Nobody knew who Mark Zuckerberg was back in 2008, at least not on the large-scale, household-name status of current times. I knew he founded Facebook, and I thought it would have been really cool to meet him, but my health got in the way of a cool opportunity--only for the thousandth time. Oh yes, I totally lost out that night!

Though he was ever-so patient with me, I could tell that my boyfriend hit a wall after a Regina Spektor concert. He had bought us tickets for my birthday, but the concert was on a work night, in the East Bay, with a one-hour commute each way on the BART (subway that goes under the bay). As usual, I was exhausted and stressed out by BART. But it wasn't until I got to the venue and saw it was standing-room only that I started to lose my mind.

I knew couldn't stand on my two feet for a whole concert, so I sat on the ground, surrounded by thousands of standing concert dwellers. That didn't work, so we moved to the back of the venue and leaned against a wall. Since I had to get up early the next morning and was feeling faint, we left before the encore (so I missed hearing my favorite songs). I vaguely remember having a nervous breakdown on the BART ride back. I can't believe how difficult something so simple like going to a concert is for me sometimes; it sounds ridiculous!

I didn't ask to have Lyme disease and Hashimoto's disease. I wanted to enjoy the concert! I wanted to stand, dance, cheer, like everyone else, hear the encore, ride home smiling, get 5 hours of sleep and get up for work the next morning slightly sleepy, but nothing a coffee couldn't fix. My boyfriend was gravely disappointed in me that night, as was I.

When I ended up with a chronic, persisting case of sinusitis and tonsilitis right after that concert (which I now can attribute to my chronic Epstein-Barr and/or chronic pneumonia), the lad decided he'd had enough of my despondent debility and dumped me. I can't say I really blame him for being frustrated. Indeed, he was so frustrated that he proceeded to shack up with a very athletic, vivacious woman a manner of days after calling us quits with me.

I just wish I'd known I have chronic Lyme disease or any of my other diseases when I was with him or any of the others. Maybe they would have been more tolerant. Maybe not. I don't know.

A boyfriend of many years prior fell prey to my chronically nauseous years. We'd drive out to the coast, and I'd get car sick and make him pull over. We'd trek out to the redwood forest in Sonora and I'd have indigestion, get nauseous and start to cry. One time, after a bout of awful food poisoning, he had the privilege of carrying me to the emergency room for i.v. fluids. Another time, when I got mono and couldn't even stand, he put me in the shower, bathed and shampooed me while I folded like a corpse on the ceramic flooring.

Vacations with partners have almost always been highly detrimental to the health of our relationship. Three days in Miami with the beau who bathed me--to celebrate our three year anniversary--were three exhausting days. Weekends in San Diego and Carmel with the bicycling beau were ultimately disappointing, too. As a homebody who hates to leave her cats, borderlines on agoraphobia when stressed, and fears everything from flying to food poisoning, I can't say I exactly thrive when I travel.

The irony in this is that another part of me--the part that relishes in new experiences and seizing the day--genuinely adores the concept of a weekend trip to exotic destinations. The reality always seems to crush the fantasy, though, because--duh--I have chronic Lyme disease and a host of other chronic illnesses I never knew about until now. Any stress, even "good" stress, takes a serious toll on my health. (Now I understand why, as I've read reports about Lyme sufferers' inability to process stress.)

Last year, I dated someone for a couple of months, deeming myself ready to give relationships another go after my last serious breakup in '09. During that period, the stress in my life had reached a new threshold, as I purchased a home with a 10-day closing period, and moved from my apartment into the house all while courting my new love interest. (Everything is a struggle when you're as independent as me, responsible for all of life's minutiae on your own.)

At the same time that I was in transition, I was also managing the hiring process of a new director at work, which required me to interview multiple candidates. My job also sent me 
to a job fair to recruit office interns, and to Southern California for a conference--all during the couple of months I was dating this fellow and moving into my new home.

Luckily, and coincidentally, his job also sent him to Southern California the same weekend mine did! We only had one night together in L.A., which I ruined by drinking too much vodka at some swanky "chateau" bar, so instead of driving up into the Hollywood hills afterward like we had planned, I asked him if we could just go back to our hotel room.

Vodka, unlike wine, has a tendency to give me a bad reaction, and by "bad", I mean that I get giddily drunk almost instantly, and sobering up--while it also happens quickly--entails the emergence of an unrivaled moodiness.

That wasn't the only incident in which our romantic time spent together was ruined by my idiotic consumption of vodka. When he took me to Napa for wine tasting, I was so hungover from the previous night of drinking with a girlfriend in San Francisco that I essentially spent the day watching my guy taste wine after wine after wine, while pretending to sip on my own samples and fighting the urge to heave. Okay, I shouldn't say our day in Napa was ruined; we still had a nice time, but I wasn't myself because of the night before.

(At least, I haven't had vodka again since then. In fact, I haven't had any alcohol yet this year. :))

Ten days after I moved into my home, the same guy threw a costume party at his house, and unable to get myself out of bed, I ended up not attending. I had been looking forward to meeting his friends and being introduced as his girl, but instead, I slept and grieved. And, while he was tolerant, I broke things off, realizing that I was unable to manage that relationship and the mess that had become my life. Timing is crucial, and I knew it was the wrong time in my life for him.

Lately, I haven't had the desire to commit to anyone, which is a far cry from my romantic codependencies of yesteryear. It's not that my exes mistreated me, scarring me--quite the contrary(!)--they mostly adored and endured me in spite of my incompetencies! It's me who has reservations. Do I want to go through the same old thing again?

The concept of falling in love again before I recover is frightening, depressing and seemingly inappropriate. I shudder at history's notion of repeating itself. I shudder at the forethought that my next boyfriend will want to whisk me away for a romantic weekend. I shudder at any commitment, whether it's a housewarming party or marriage, when my health varies so unpredictably from day to day. I shudder at letting someone down.

But I want to get married, I want to have several children, and I want to travel to New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Czech Republic with the whole family in tow! I want to eat whatever I want from a taco truck and not worry that my stomach will turn... and to not need tissues for my chronic sinusitis... I want to take that helmet out of my trunk and bike through the hills... I want my boyfriend, husband, children to look up to me, to see me as strong and admirable, and not to tip toe around me.


To my exes who endured my mood swings, emotional outbursts, inexistent stamina/strength, soreness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, panic attacks, headaches, and God knows what else, I'm not crazy. We've solved the riddle. (And it's so good to know, and to be starting intense, rigorous treatment!!)

But thanks for loving me anyway when we were together.


  1. What a lovely and honest post! Again, I could really associate with a lot of it. I used to push to go to social events by drinking alcohol which would help me get through it. Now I just never really want to go to these things. IN the past when I was not able to go to something but my boyfriend was I would get very down. Now I'm quite happy to stay in and be at peace even if he's going out and about.

    I too have had some bad experiences with holiday experiences. I think it's the expectation. We have the ability to still dream and imagine how these holidays will be, but as you said the reality can be VERY different. It can be so difficult and emotionally draining. AND then you end up arguing on top of all that stress... These are some of my most horrible memories of my experience of being ill so far.

    Even though I'm getting married this year I can really understand why you want to be single for now...

    You should talk to your new Lyme doctor about the whole children dream/issue.

    I hope your treatment is going ok...

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  2. Leila-

    It's emet Lindsay. :) I have been reading your blog posts and want to express how happy I am that you have found the key to all of the health issues that have plagued you throughout the years. Your writing is eloquent, direct, and honest... it's so great that you are sharing this with everyone. Your disease gets far too little hype for the incredible problem it creates. Kudos to you!! I hope your impending treatment brings you much health and well-deserved happiness.

  3. Leila,

    Thank you for writing about this. This was such a candid, honest account about something that's been true for so many of us. And easy to read even for my tired brain! My heart goes out to you for all the struggles you've shared. I have had very few relationships in my lifetime for many of the reasons you wrote about. So many missed opportunities, so many things I wish I could go back and fix, or explain so people would know i'm not just lazy, pessemistic, stupid, etc.. Thanks again, friend :) <3

  4. I remember being so sick one night 4 years ago, really fat (little did I know it was 40 pounds of water weight caused by cirrhosis from lyme) and just sobbing. I knew I would never find anyone to love me. Not until I was better at least. Fast forward two years and out of nowhere, when I stopped looking for love mr. perfect came along. I think focusing on yourself is very important and when the time is right, God will bring you mr. perfect, who will love you in spite of your illness.