Thank you, Kristi, for sharing your story of true love in chronic illness with us!
Kristi and her husband, JJ, live with their two boys in southern Maine. JJ owns a property management business and Kristi, when not running after her kiddos, blogs about home in Maine. (For more of her chronic illness journey, read her guest post Broken Dreams and Gold Dust: When Chronic Illness Changes Your Life or A Thrill of Hope: Celebrating Christmas in Chronic Illness.)
How did you and JJ meet?
JJ and I met in college–one of my best friends actually introduced us to each other, but we didn’t really “notice” each other or start talking until the next semester when our schedules aligned and we were in the same class…then all of a sudden we couldn’t stop talking! We began a committed dating relationship after spring break and never looked back. We got married right after graduation a few years later.
What was dating like for you?
I had been struggling with my health for a few years but without any diagnosis. JJ and I actually only spent two semesters at college together before my health declined to the point where I had to stay home.
Most of our relationship was long distance, and I struggled with a lot of depression and anxiety related to suddenly not being able to finish school, being stuck at home, missing JJ, and not knowing what was wrong with me. It really taught us a lot about communication and forced our relationship to grow deeper right from the start, since we had to walk through the unknown together (while navigating a long distance relationship). Our faith in God and our trust in each other were both thoroughly tested.
I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease and several other chronic conditions. I started treatments and tested clear about six months before we got married, but many of the effects still lingered. By the time we said our marriage vows, the phrase “in sickness and in health” was deeply meaningful for us.
Can you tell us a little about your condition?
I’ve always seemed to have one kind of health issue or another, but I’ve mostly been affected by over six years of chronic Lyme disease (accompanied by mono, Epstein Barr, and a few other conditions affecting my nervous system) that took up most of my high school and college years. I struggled with debilitating fatigue and muscle pain/weakness along with nausea, depression and anxiety, weakened immune system, brain fog, and various other symptoms. We could not figure out what it was for the first several years until we finally found out through bio energetic testing and were able to treat it homeopathically and through diet changes.
Most of the symptoms faded away after nine months of treatment, and I’m so grateful to be able to live a more “normal” life now; but I do still struggle with some of the long term effects.
What challenges have you faced together because of your condition?
We have had to work through a lot of unknowns together—when we started dating, we had no idea whether I would ever get a diagnosis or get better, much less be able to live a normal life or have kids or anything like that. That’s a sobering reality to deal with and a lot of weight to put on someone who wants to spend the rest of his life with you!
I often struggled with questioning my self worth and defining myself and my life by my limitations and being sick. There were times I felt like JJ deserved someone better, someone healthy, and I felt like I was just dragging him down, especially when I was overwhelmed with fatigue and depression.
But somehow he was able to see past those things to who I really was, even when I couldn’t. He loved me the same on my good days and my bad days, spoke truth to me, and prayed over me over and over. God used JJ to show me His unconditional, Gospel love in a whole new way.
We learned so much about communication, commitment, faith, and trusting each other through those years. Though I wouldn’t wish that hardship on others, God definitely used it in our lives to build a strong, faith-filled foundation for our relationship and eventually our marriage.
What do you wish you had known when you were starting your relationship?
I wish I had not defined myself by my illness and limitations so much. It’s so, so hard, especially when your brain is all muddled and you’re so tired and depression is a real thing and you just can’t think straight. But I often just gave up and wallowed instead. JJ was such a gift to me in that time because he didn’t let me stay defeated. He reminded me of truth, told me all the things he loved about me that I couldn’t see in myself, encouraged me, and helped me see the positive things that I just couldn’t (or didn’t want to) see. He made me feel seen and that I wasn’t alone, and when nothing else would help, prayed for and over me. (Find a man like this!!)
I know that there’s such an overlap with the physical and mental aspects of chronic illness, but I really believe from experience that the mental side of things is just as, if not more, important to focus on. Make a battle plan together to keep believing truth rather than getting pulled into believing that your illness is your life. It may be a big part of you and your life, but it is not your identity. I found writing down the positive things each day—even if there was only one, and no matter how small—helped me fight the mental spirals I so easily fell into. Choosing verses or mantras to repeat to yourself and remind each other helps refocus you.
Also, don’t give in to the lie that you’re alone. As hard and exhausting as it is, make the effort to build yourselves a support network. Find friends and family who will support you both, and don’t be afraid to ask for help, a listening ear, or prayer. It might feel like the easiest and safest route to just withdraw or internalize and just let your man be your only support–but that’s a lot to ask of him, and it’s not healthy for either of you.
Relationships are a lot of work, and it’s easy to let them go when you have limited energy and emotional reserves, but God designed us to live in community with others, and you’ll find it life-giving in the times you need it most. If possible, encourage your man to find someone he can trust to talk to and find support in your relationship. He wants to be strong for you and to help you all he can, but it’s draining for him too at times. Having someone he can reach out to for empathy and encouragement or just to ask for advice will help strengthen him to be the support and leader he wants to be for you.
And if possible, encourage your man to find someone he can trust to talk to about things when he needs a listening ear or someone to remind him of truth. He wants to be strong for you and it’s hard for him to feel helpless on your bad days when nothing he says or does will help and he just wants to make you better. He needs someone to lean on every once in a while too, so that he can continue to be that support for you. Find people you can also go to together for encouragement; even better if they’ve walked the same road before.
How would you advise women with chronic illness to pray for their Special Someone?
It’s tempting to pray for someone who will solve all your needs and be the person you can lean on for everything, but while that’s not wrong, you need someone who will put God first—who will realize his own limitations and look to God to fill those first without trying to be everything to you on his own. You need someone who will point you back to Christ and walk right beside you because he needs Christ just as much as you do.
That said, pray for someone who will love you not despite your illness, but with (or without) it. Someone who will look past it to who you really are, but who also will not ignore the very real part that your health needs play in your life and relationship. Pray for someone who will love you in the way you need, not necessarily the way you want. Pray that God will prepare him with a compassionate heart, an open mind, and a quickness to turn to Christ for the wisdom, strength, and love he needs in order to be the man he wants to be for you.
I’m forever grateful that God gave me this in JJ, and I pray he leads you to this kind of man too.
What resources helped you specifically through your challenges?
Good friends and family. 🙂
Is there a part of Kristi’s story that most encouraged you? A word of advice you plan to take home? Any stories of how YOUR Special Someone (or a friend or family member) has shown you true love in your chronic illness? Please share in the comments, we’d love to hear!