Affairs of the heart

Affairs of the heart

While those attitudes which disable us are external, they can relate to and have an impact on our internal well-being. Lisa Barnett is awaiting a heart transplant while at the same time trying to sort out those other matters of the heart.

In my teenage years and early twenties my heart condition, and even the stroke it caused, has never really been an issue in my past relationships, in that I never felt it deterred people. Certain issues such as raising a family, or the idea of spending the rest of your life with someone, really weren’t subjects that were particularly relevant.

Now, at 26 years old it seems increasingly clear that people in my age bracket (25-35) are feeling a sort of urgency to “settle down” and find someone to spend the rest of their life with. My sense of urgency however, is whether or not I’ll find a heart in time and whether or not I survive the procedure! The possibility of raising a family, and/or living a long life with a partner seems a very long way off!

On recognizing these quite irreconcilable priorities, I have found myself on dates where I am increasingly self-conscious about my heart condition and find myself taking my evening medication after the date, so as not to have to explain what it is I’m taking and why.

The planning of where to meet on a date involves assessing the stairs in the tube station, the stairs in any pub we may go to, the distance it is from the station, and now how long I will have to travel underground without mobile reception on the tube: 20 minutes is my maximum. Whether or not it is the case the my heart condition and its implications play a role in the thought processes of those around me, there is a reality to the fact that my life plans just can’t be reconciled with those of the majority of people my age, and this is a difficult reality to have to deal with in terms of how I view my relationships.

The idea of finding anyone who can relate to, understand or appreciate the very personal distressing experiences that can “come with the job” of having a disability seems an immense challenge, as does my ability to allow someone into this very personal, yet hugely significant, part of my life.

The experiences of disablement that I have encountered – the frustration, traumatic hospital experiences, reliance on others, a lack of independence along with the physical ailments – are also hidden. Feeling able to talk about or share these experiences may or may not be helpful. At times I have found it a difficult balancing act, trying to decipher whether I will find myself disconnected from those around me by discussing the realities of my condition, or whether actually my experiences will result in a real bond of understanding and dialogue; usually it is the latter!

Because of these feelings the idea of then emotionally having the energy and space to create and build a relationship can seem more like a burden than a pleasure. Being so very aware of how fragile one is physiologically, the emotional trauma of coping, in my case, with being on the transplant list, and the increasing effort needed for mere everyday tasks, amplify the reasons why the idea of attempting a relationship is problematic.

The idealistic half of me would love to be in a relationship again, the realistic half is terrified!

And then there is the obvious awkward question which close friends ask, and which just goes through the minds of those who aren’t close enough to ask upfront, of: ”If you can’t exercise…and get out of breath with a flight of stairs, and struggle with exertion…then…you know…can you still have sex?” And the answer – it has all the same issues of any exercise, except of course due to the “at times” horizontal nature of the activity, what results is a build up from fluid in my lungs – oh that crackly, wheezing heavy breathing… the ultimate turn on! Also, I must avoid caffeine due to the effect of adrenaline on the heart – well, orgasms are pretty much an adrenaline shot in one go! Uh oh!!

Things are confusing and complicated. For now I am wary of physical exertion in any form! However I am still going out and meeting new people as much as I can. Ironically, once I have had the transplant and no longer have the heart condition, the scar will “speak for itself”.

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