IBD | Relationships
February 2017. I go to what I think will be one of my good friends’ birthday parties. It was a mythical creature-themed birthday so naturally, I was in my element. As soon as I walk in the door, I see a girl across the way with hair red as a fire hydrant and dressed like what I assume is the Little Mermaid. Right away I’m blown away. I start asking questions about her and her cousin which was my friend having the party, told me all about her. A few more parties would take place during the year and I would see this girl from time to time. She was always viewed as the life of the party, laughing, loud as anything. She had the energy to captivate the room. She had the energy I always wish I had.
Fast forward to November 2017, we finally start talking at another one of her cousin’s parties. We talked for a little bit and we start to go on a few dates.
One day we’re sitting in my room and I could see she’s visibly anxious. I’m looking at her and she is beautiful and funny but I can see she’s nervous to tell me something. She says “There’s something important that I have to tell you and I don’t know how you’re going to feel about it”. She tells me she has an ostomy. I remember making a face and saying it wasn’t a big deal. She then exclaimed, “You know there’s poop in there”. I proceeded to say “Hello there’s poop inside me too!” We laughed and I thought nothing of it. I realize now that was just the tip of the iceberg and I should have asked more questions. The truth is I didn’t know what to ask. I didn’t know really too much about the different types of ostomies. Michelle told me she had Crohn’s disease and what that meant. I remember not really hearing much about it before that. I took this as, okay sometimes she’ll have hard days and will use the bathroom differently but there’s not much difference between the two of us. At this time Michelle was working as a medical assistant, raising her son and living an independent life. I had no idea the struggle she went through on a day-to-day basis or how my life would completely change.
The first time Michelle got sick I assumed it was like a regular cold. She would be out of commission for a few days so I did things around the house, took care of our son, and tried to make things physically easier for her.
I did not realize how I was not emotionally invested in her being sick. To be honest, I kind of ignored it until she got better. I noticed her getting sick would happen more frequently after we would do something strenuous on the weekend. I also noticed she would miss days of work. And at one point, I honestly did think she was milking the whole situation because I couldn’t see what was going on in her body. That last statement is hard to say, but it’s true and it’s authentic. I think those who are caregivers sometimes question the ailments of their loved ones, especially loved ones with invisible illnesses. I remember us doing little things like going to a late-night movie or going for a walk, she would struggle to get through. Occasionally we would try something big like go to Purgatory Chasm. I remember being annoyed that she could be limited sometimes. I would even say I would be selfish and think why can’t she just push through it to spend time with me.
Now, looking back I feel like a fool and I feel guilty for having those feelings about the woman I love, but I think it’s important to express how it looks to other people. I didn’t realize that Michelle had experienced this most of her life. Friends not understanding or family members thinking she’s making it up. I didn’t realize that I was just like everyone else. I was questioning her limitations, I was angry at her and it frustrated me. I think it was particularly difficult for me because when I met Michelle I was 24 and then we started dating when I was 25. Michelle’s only 3 years older than me, so in my mind, we were in our prime and would be doing stupid things together or going on gorgeous hikes often. I was pretty ignorant about what Crohn’s disease truly was.
As time went on, Michelle was not only diagnosed with Crohn’s disease but Endometriosis and Fibromyalgia (and the list goes on). She ended up losing her job due to countless days she had to take off of work because of tests, surgeries, and everything else that goes along with being complicated and chronically ill. As time continued, I saw the girl who was the center of attention, who was always making people laugh, and who was a force to be reckoned with now struggling to find her place. Prior to our marriage, Michelle missed big events due to her illness and hospitalizations. She missed weddings, first days of school, time with family, birthdays, and other life events. Her disease often makes it so she misses days upon days because she is so tired or in so much pain. At times I’ve had to take over the household duties as well as family obligations. I was, for a long time (and sometimes still) resentful, angry, and irritable.
In 2017, Michelle came in contact with an organization named Girls With Guts. In 2019, she was lucky enough to be chosen to attend their Newbie Retreat. She explained it to me as women getting together who had the same health concerns and experiences. At this point, Michelle was pretty broken. When I say that, I mean she had lost her job. She felt she didn’t have a purpose. There were conflicts with us and I feel like she felt alone. When Michelle went on that Retreat and came back home, I saw a different woman. She came back making new friends who truly understood what she was going through. She came home with ideas on how to teach me about her disease and I started to listen but I still have a ways to go. I saw the girl that I fell in love with start to laugh a little bit more, smile, to feel supported, and once again captivate the room.
In October 2019, Michelle and I got married. When couples get married, we’re often asked to love the person through sickness and in health. I don’t really think that people understand what that means when they’re in that moment. When your partner has Crohn’s, it’s more sickness than health.
Despite all the negative things Crohn’s disease has done, there are moments of positivity. After our wedding, the term in sickness and in health brought new meaning to my life. I started to finally listen and do more research. I got more involved in my wife’s medical appointments, being an advocate, and being there physically every day. I think before I was scared of her mortality, that I was in over my head, and I didn’t know if I could handle it. I really thought about the whole situation and how much I loved Michelle. I thought about the term Girls with Guts. To me as an outsider, it’s more than just about the girls’ health and diseases. My wife has guts because every day, she wakes up not knowing what the day will bring for her body or mental health. She has guts because there is no cure. Even though she takes Stelara, it’s sometimes not enough. She has guts when she receives negative comments from those who don’t understand her day-to-day struggle. For those who don’t see her struggling to be present mentally and physically for her family, struggling to try and take care of her hygiene and to try and take care of her medical needs. I’ve learned that my wife has more guts than I will ever have. She’s taught me what true love really is and what being by someone’s side really means. I have learned so much and yet I am still ignorant. I know I will never fully understand her struggles, but I know as her wife and caretaker I will continue to do so.
So, if you choose to love a Girl with Guts you sure you have some too!
(Wife of Michelle Cabral)
Ali Cabral is married to a beautiful wife and they have a 10-year-old son. She is 28 years old currently works as a Social Worker doing IHT and OP services. She primarily works with children. She has recently gotten to understand the organization Girls with Guts through her wife, Michelle Cabral, who is a forum moderator and Pen Pal Angel volunteer for the organization.