Dating with a Chronic Illness
I am in my early twenties, I am not living my life right. I figure because I spent so
much time in drug rehab centers while I was in high school, the worst was behind
I am convinced I know how to control my addictions and as long as I don’t end up
in a rehab or jail, I am doing alright. I also believe that as long as I am aspiring for
more in my life, I am doing alright. It is when the goals go away that I have to be
concerned. As long as I can live my life in a way that I am always aspiring and am
not settling for the mundane, I will have a good life. I will have a chance of making
something of myself.
I am back in college studying for my Bachelor’s degree after taking a hiatus to
tend to a chronic medical condition. I have always had problems with my bladder
growing up as a child, but unfortunately, after enduring some sexual trauma from
my peers after I graduated high school, my condition worsened and I spend a lot
of my time in emergency rooms, doctors offices and wailing on bathroom floors.
It is a very dark and lonely time in my life. I hate that my life hadn’t turned out
different in some way. I hate that I haven’t met someone and married sooner. I
want so desperately to have someone by my side who will love me unconditionally
and not think I am strange because I am chained to a toilet most days. My bladder
takes a huge priority in my life between the ages of 19 and well, until recently in
my thirties. I date men and am upfront with them about my medical condition and
as you can imagine, they run for the hills. There are days I go to the bathroom over
twenty times. There are days where I can’t go at all. Two or three times, I am stuck
wearing a Foley catheter.
Eventually, I have to learn how to catheterize myself. I am an emotional wreck from the fear and obsession of thinking I will live the rest of my life like this. Who would want to be with a girl who occasionally wears a bag of her
own urine on her leg?
I drink a lot and I take a lot of medication that isn’t prescribed to me to numb the
pain of the constant rejection I feel. I feel rejected by God, by men, and even my
own peers at times. My friends advise me to keep my bladder problem a secret,
but I never can. I am always convinced if I bring it up in the beginning of dating
maybe someone will give me a chance despite it. Maybe someone will accept me
the way I am. I fear getting involved with someone and having my heart broken
once they find out how broken I am later down the road.
After dating many men and being rejected by many more, I am at a low point when
it comes to relationships-I am desperate.
I am enrolled in Western Kentucky University and rent a one bedroom apartment by myself in Bowling Green. I am driving back and forth to work in Rivergate,Tennessee where I am surrounded by my friends, but back home in my apartment, I am lonely. I want a man by my side.
The first time I see the man who would later become my fiancé, he is sitting sitting
at table 9 in my restaurant. He is wearing an orange polo and matching orange
plaid shorts. He is tan and has tattoos on his hands and his neck. He looks like a
terrible idea and I love a guy who looks like a terrible idea.
I think to myself, “I will bring him to Kentucky with me and we will live together”.
I have a plan for him in my life right away. I am always making plans.
We begin spending time together. I like him a lot. I invite him to live with me. He
thinks it’s a great idea. I am excited to live with a man. I have never lived with a
man other than my father. The idea of never being alone and staying up late
watching movies and talking excites me. My new boyfriend has the same affinity
for pain medication as I do and my bladder problem isn’t a problem for him. He tells me I am beautiful. He says I am smart and he believes in me. He has come
into my life to accompany me and encourage me. What a blessing!
The first time he puts his hands on me we are at his brother’s house. I am on my
way to work. I have upset him. I have said the wrong thing. How could I say such a
thing? Why am I not more mindful of his feelings? He is so mindful of mine. He
puts up with my bladder problem. He doesn’t judge me for it and here I am
creating problems for us with my smart mouth. I cry begging his forgiveness as he
pushes me to the ground. My purse flies up in the air. I watch as all my belongings
fall onto the ground. Now I am going to be late to work. How could I let this
happen? “Please don’t leave me”, I beg. I can’t go out into the dating world again.
No one wants me there. He is sorry. He is so sorry, but I have to understand I hurt
his feelings. I should know better.
Life in Bowling Green isn’t as fun as I thought it would be. He thinks I am sleeping with my professor. He hates my dog. He says I love her more than I love him. How do I prove to him he is wrong? He is drinking a lot. I am finding out he is doing cocaine too. Things seem to be unraveling. My heart feels like it is going to
explode. I am scared I am having a heart attack. I go to the clinic at the school.
The nurse tells me, “It’s anxiety. It’s normal for college students to have anxiety.
Here’s a prescription. You’ll be fine.”
I come home from school one day, I upset him. He is always upset with me. I tell
him I don’t think sometimes. He yells at me. “That’s the problem with you! You
never think!” He is on top of me now, choking me. “I can’t breathe”, I gasp as he
tightens his grip. I fear I am dying. This can’t be happening. Surely, I can’t die now. He’s killing me. He doesn’t even realize I am dying. God, no. Please, don’t let me die yet.
Suddenly, there’s a bang on the door, “Police! Open up!”
He gets off me and I open the door. The policeman tells me, “Your neighbor called.
They said they could hear someone saying they couldn’t breathe. What is going
on, ma’am? Are you alright?”
They question my boyfriend. He assures them we are fine. The policeman looks
into my eyes, “I see the marks around your neck. Your face is red. Please let me
take him in. He’ll only do it again.”
I deny there’s a problem. If I put him in jail, there’s no bail in Kentucky. He’ll never
let me live it down. The police leave. He is sorry.
Our relationship continues. The choking continues. The hitting, biting and kicking
continues. My mother is not happy. My friends are not happy. I am no longer
allowed to have friends. In fact, I must quit my job. I graduate college and I must
live with his mother. I no longer have a life of my own. I am plagued with anxiety.
We move out of his mother’s and we get our own house. Our own house of
horrors. His crack addicted step father needs a place to stay. He lives with us now.
I wonder if he hears the things my boyfriend does to me at night against my will. I am constantly humiliated. My bladder is constantly in pain. I feel tormented by my physical health and my fear. I have to get out of this. I would finally rather be alone, but how?
One evening I am at his mother’s house waiting for him to come home from work.
He is late-very late. He is up to something. I can feel it. I can feel the dread.
He comes to the back door. He is with a friend.
“Ashley, come get the door”, he calls.
I open the door and there he is on his knee with a ring in a box and a huge grin on
“Lord, no”, I think to myself.
I feel anger rise in me. We don’t have any groceries. Why would he go and buy a
ring. This man is clueless. I don’t want this. I don’t want this life forever.
“Yes”, I say as I hold back my disgust and disdain for him.
He is happy. I am not.
His eight-year old brother, a frequent eye witness to our violence, asks me, “Why,
would you say yes, Ashley? You know you can’t marry him.”
“I know, but I am scared to say no, Christian. I’ll figure it out.”
I start praying. I know I need help.
“God, please open a window. Please, God. Open a window of opportunity for me so I can get out of this. I messed up. I made a mistake. Help me, God,”
At this point, I never have my phone. He has it. I no longer have my car. He has it.
He needs it to go to work. I don’t work. I can’t be trusted to work. I stay at the
house all day reading books, escaping the reality that is my life. My life is now
what I feared the most: mundane and aimless. I am a prisoner of my own accord.
I have to get out.
And then God opens the window.
We are shopping. I don’t know why. We never have any money. He is drunk. He is
always drunk by now. He is showing off my ring to cashiers yelling that a man from
the trailer park was able to get a dime like me. I feel humiliated. I ask him to stop.
His cigarette accidentally burns me. I shout in pain. He tells me it’s my fault.
I tell him he is too drunk. I need to drive.
“I should drive. You’ve been drinking. You can’t drive. If we get pulled over, you’ll
go to jail and we can’t afford bail. I can’t lose you,” I bargain.
He finally lets me.
We get to his 16 year old sister’s apartment. She sees how drunk he is.
“Ashley, you can’t go home with him tonight. No one will hear you scream this
time”, her words resonate all throughout my body.
Tonight has to be the night. I have to get away. Something real bad is going to
happen tonight if I don’t get out of this mess. I can feel it, but I am not afraid. I am
excited. It’s over. I can feel the end is near. I won’t go home with him tonight. I will
find a way.
He wants a pizza. I have my keys. If only I could get my phone from him too. If I
can finally have my phone and my keys, I can call my mother. I can call my best
friend who I haven’t spoken to in almost a year. They can help me.
I turn on my charm and hide my disgust for him. “I’ll go get the pizza. Why don’t
you give me the phone and I can call your sister at the apartment in case
He hands me the phone. I’m free. My God, I am free!
I call my mother. I call my best friend. “I am leaving him. I need help. I have to get
my things out of the house before he realizes what I have done.”
I am free. It is finally over. I can get my life back. There are worse things than
rejection. I know I’ve lived it now.
In doing this podcast, I am learning about myself that the pain of rejection has
pushed me into unhealthy and sometimes even violent relationships. I am so
grateful that they are in my past and that I am no longer turning to relationships to
fill me. Over the past couple of years, upon leaving my last serious relationship, I
can see how the pain of rejection catapulted me into unhealthy cycles.
I was so tired of being rejected by men for a medical condition I couldn’t figure out or
control myself. I felt like such a burden upon people that as soon as men came into my life that were unbothered by it, I convinced myself they were ideal for me,
but they were anything but that. I never intended to share this story on our podcast. I always looked at this story as how I got involved with a violent man and dumped him, but it wasn’t until our Valentine’s episode that I realized the pain of rejection from so many men in my life due to my illness made me the perfect candidate for abuse.
I think so many times we ask why women would stay. It is so easy for us to blame
women when we don’t know their full story. I have been shamed throughout the
years for my relationship with this man. How I should have known better, how he
was too small of a guy for me to let abuse me, how my dog would still be alive if it
weren’t for this relationship, but there’s more to the story. There’s a prequel to it.
There was something deeply painful already going on with me. I was a reject in my own eyes. I didn’t know how to see myself as valuable.
When I came to Christ in 2018, a miracle happened for me. For six months, I had
no symptoms of my illness. That had never happened before for me. My doctors were blown away. I have a medical device implanted in my spine that regulates the nerve leading to my bladder. I was able to turn it off and without any medication, I had no symptoms. I believe the Lord had touched and healed me those six months. After another very dramatic breakup of my next toxic relationship, my symptoms returned.
That was two years ago. There are days that are horrible forme, but they are few and far in between and currently seem related to high levels of stress, but my condition doesn’t rule my life anymore. I don’t let the opinions of
men affect how I see myself or my body. I believe sometimes God uses my
condition to get my attention. It may just be my thorn in my side. My body seems
to react to stress in an unconventional way which as annoying and painful as it
may be, I do sometimes have to laugh about it. Some people run on treadmills
when they’re stressed, I run to the bathroom.