In the latest issue of Billboard, Selena Gomez talks about being diagnosed with lupus and how she had to undergo chemotherapy treatment for the disease. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, over 1.5 million Americans are living with the disease, and it mostly hits women of “childbearing age.” Women of color are also two to three times more likely to develop lupus than white women. Lupus is one of those nasty autoimmune diseases where your body is pretty much at war with yourself — or so I was repeatedly told around this time last year after being diagnosed with the same thing.
They say it’s hard to diagnose lupus because it comes in so many shapes and forms. For me, it started with the typical butterfly rash on the face, which I mistakenly thought was just a bad case of being sunburned. But things started getting worse when my legs suddenly felt extremely weak. Sitting and standing on my own became super difficult for me. Going to the bathroom by myself was hard because I couldn’t physically bring myself to stand after sitting on the toilet.
When I finally did go to the hospital, I spent about three weeks there as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. In the meantime, I was swelling up. My legs and feet had ballooned like crazy, my heart rate after lying in bed for several weeks was high as if I ran a marathon, and I had difficulty urinating, so nurses had to shove a catheter inside of me. After doing every blood test, MRI, and CT scan possible, I was finally visited by a kidney doctor who informed me that my kidneys were failing (a symptom of lupus) and I would probably need to be on dialysis. In short, I honestly thought I was dying. Sometimes, at my darkest moments, I even wish that I were.
Treatment plans are very individualized and the key to controlling it is to be put on the right combo of meds. While Gomez, and many others with lupus, have had to use chemotherapy, I was lucky in the sense that I didn’t have to. For me, it was a combination of steroids, immunosuppressants, and various supplements. My body also quickly responded to the medications given to me and my kidneys turned around quickly, so I was able to avoid the whole dialysis route.
After spending about a month in the hospital while doctors ran all the tests possible to confirm that I indeed had lupus, I spent another three weeks in a rehab hospital in order to get back to how I was. Learning how to sit, stand, and shower all over again when you’re in your mid-20s and was frustrating to say the least.
But when life hits you with something challenging like a medical condition, it really changes your perspective on a lot of things. For me, I’ve always been this super focused, career-driven, ambitious young woman. I always had this idea that I’d be the cool aunt who never got married and had a lot of hot young guys at my beck and call. But when you’re spending time in a hospital with people generations ahead of you, who are nearing the last days of their lives, it really makes you reflect on your own life and what’s important.
So, over the past year since my diagnosis, I’ve definitely invested a lot more into matters of the heart. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still what Nicki Minaj likes to say, a “boss ass bitch,” but I’ve definitely taken things in my personal life a lot more seriously than before. Here’s what I’ve learned about dating when you have lupus:
1. It Makes You Carefully Consider Your Dating Options
There’s no question about it, there are a lot of jerks in the world. It’s hard enough to weed them out when you’re “normal” and don’t have a condition. But when you have lupus, there are going to be a-holes out there who won’t consider your feelings. They find the fact that you sometimes get tired easily to mean that you’re living an unhealthy and not active lifestyle. So, it’s in their best interest to find someone who’s just as active as them. There are also going to be idiots out there who’ll lose interest in you because you can’t spend an entire day sunbathing on the beach. There are some who think lupus is “contagious.” There are even going to be some who won’t want to stick around because you might suddenly die on them.
But in all honesty, you don’t want that around. Maybe the hot jerks are the ones you shouldn’t be dating anymore. Personality and what’s inside definitely counts. You don’t want to invest in someone who’s just going to stress you out, whether it's a casual thing or long-term relationship. Stress + lupus = no bueno.
2. You Feel Like You're Living A Double Life When You First Start Seeing Someone
Living with a condition like lupus may sometimes feel like you’re living a double life. Especially when it comes to people who don’t know you well enough. As people with lupus would know, we need a good combination of meds to keep us living normal, stable, and pain-free lives. It’s not just one or two little pills we can pop in on the sly. While it’s good to be honest and upfront in relationships, it’s definitely difficult sometimes when you first start dating someone you really like. What if they find out I have to take like 10 pills every morning and night? What if they find out that sometimes I have to cancel dates because my body just won’t allow me to?
It’s hard. It really is. You want this person to like you—all of you—but at the same time, you don’t want to scare them away. For me, it’s all about finding someone who I feel is worthy enough to invest in. It’s definitely not easy, and as I said earlier, you’ll have to go through a lot of jerks. But in the end, when you’re finally able to reveal to Lois Lane that Superman has been Clark Kent all along, it’s going to be a huge weight lifted off your shoulders.
3. It Does A Number On Your Self-Confidence
I used to have beautiful, long, thick hair. People would compliment me on it all the time. But when I started going on high dosages of steroids, I found that my beautiful thick hair of head had become very thin. I also have “battle scars” all over my arms and legs from the rashes I got from lupus, as well as small stretch marks from where my legs and feet had gotten swollen from the kidney failure. When you see all these flaws on yourself that didn’t use to be there, your self-confidence definitely goes down the drain. I cried the first time I was forced to get a haircut because my hair had become so thin. For some people, being on high dosages of steroids to treat lupus can cause weight gain.
But what I’ve learned is, I was in the freaking hospital for two months. I couldn’t walk, stand, and go to the bathroom on my own for two months. But I survived that. Now, I can run up the stairs two steps at a time if I want to. All those little marks and scars just remind me that I went through and overcame a hell of a lot. No one is going to make me feel ugly or bad or unwanted because of that. Not even me.
4. It’s OK To Be A Little Selfish
You need to think about number one, which is you. If you wake up one day and feel like there’s no way in hell you can go out, then don’t. It’s OK. If you’re with someone who gets mad at that, then you don’t need them in your life. You need to love and take care of yourself first before you can love someone else.
5. I'm Loveable
In all honesty, we’re all going through some kind of sh*t. Whether it’s lupus, depression, anxiety—whatever it is you have—it’s part of life. But it doesn’t define you. For all I know, the next guy I’m dating could have some serious baggage of his own. But just because he has depression, it doesn’t mean I like him any less. Just because you have lupus, it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a person who’s “normal.” In the same way, having lupus doesn't make you unloveable. But being a complete bitch will. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just another one of those things we learn to live with.
In the end, dating while you have lupus is like dating without it. You're going to have ups and downs. You're going to have good days, and you're going to have bad. You're going to meet great people, and you're going to meet people who are not-so-great. But just know, it's all going to work itself out in the end.
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