When I was growing up, my household was anything but the typical 1950’s sitcom, where the husband was the bread winner and the wife was the home maker. In fact, my mom has always been career-driven for as long as I can remember and I’ve admired her for it ever since. She identifies as a working woman, and is very passionate about what she does. Throughout elementary school, high school, university, and now into graduate school – I’ve noticed I’m a lot more like her than I initially thought as I am also very passionate about my work, my education, and consistently crave being challenged. I’ve promised myself that no matter what path I take – wherever I go, whatever I become, and whoever I date – that I won’t lose myself in the process. Whenever I think about healthy relationships, I think about the importance of being with someone who doesn’t change you, maintaining your individuality and sense of self, and healthy boundaries (for both people in the relationship, not just yourself).
As I’ve mentioned before, Will and I are the spitting image of a small town boy and big city girl.
Before we knew each other and while we were both 22, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and excited to begin my journey with graduate school while Will was a fully certified electrician, and a homeowner well before I’d even be able to have a full-time job. Fast forward 5 years later – Will is 4 years post-injury and continuously adjusting to his new life every day, I’m one month in as a new PhD student, and we’ve been dating each other for just over a year.
Anyone who’s familiar with quadriplegia (or a neck-level spinal cord injury), the lack of manual dexterity in one’s hands is one of the most frustrating things that comes with it. While Will is one of the most intelligent, resourceful, and practical people I know – the lack of dexterity prevents his hands from doing what his brilliant mind is telling them to do. This can make everyday tasks frustrating to do as everything just takes so much longer than you want it to. Having an external care aide come in to give Will a hand not only gives Will more time to do the things he wants to do, but it allows me to be a strong and independent woman who has the time and energy to pursue her goals. It also helps us to maintain healthy relationship boundaries (as there’s just certain things you want to keep separate from your partner if you can help it). While it may not seem like it when you first say it out loud, an external care aide helps us to both maintain our independence and keep our partnership equal: Will isn’t reliant on me and my schedule to do what he wants to do and I am able to work on my PhD and keep doing what I love and what actually brought Will and I together in the first place. In our case as well, Will’s care aide is a great fit within our everyday dynamic, and we’ve been fortunate to gain a friend in the process.
Before I sign off, I wanted to be transparent and say that I had a really difficult time getting started with writing a blog piece for this month. With it being National Caregiver Month and seeing all the content out there, I felt somewhat lost and confused. Where do people whose partners require care, but you’re not the one providing the care fit? Not identifying as a caregiver to your partner certainly doesn’t make you any less of a partner. Partners who take pride in taking on a caregiver role – I see you and I respect you; I very much know how difficult of a role that can be and if that’s what pulls at your heart strings, then do not let anything get in the way of that. However, in feeling the way that I do, I’m sure there are others who don’t identify as a caregiver and I think it’s just as important for our voices to also be heard and understood. I also think that National Caregiver Month is a fantastic time to honour all of the work and dedication that external care aides and caregivers do to contribute to your partner’s full participation at home and in the community (which my researcher brain wants to remind you all is a human right for everyone, regardless of ability). What I have written above is how Ifeel about the extent of my perspective on caregiving as a romantic partner of someone with a spinal cord injury. That’s not to say that my perspective is the onlyperspective or that my perspective is better than others. However, in the case of Will and I, I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to maintain as healthy of a relationship as we have.