(Content warning: abuse and rape)

Once Upon a Time…

Today I want to tell you the story of a mentally ill autistic person who found love in the strangest of ways. It’s certainly not a happy story from start to finish and there is no ending or happily ever after, but there is true love and hope and home. This is a story of neurodivergent love and a message of hope. This is the story of how I  met my husband and how we came to be married and all the trials and tribulations in between. This is my story and I tell it to bring you hope.

And so we set the stage. A young version of me who had not yet learned she was autistic nor discovered the language of gender identity, set off to college as a mentally ill, sheltered girl from a small town where diversity was the one Hawaiian dude she went to school with. She had not yet found her calling in activism (we’ll get to that later) but was instead filled with bigoted ideology from a lifetime spent in an evangelical church and watching Fox News. It was this young person, who would later find out that no one expected her to last a year at college due to mental illness, who set out to a SUNY school five hours from home to make her way as an adult in the world.

It was on their first morning at school that our story begins. She set off to breakfast amidst the overwhelming sea of unfamiliar faces and brand new terrain. After getting food, she wandered around until she found a seat alone, prepared to eat a meal in solitude like so many before. But that all changed when a girl from orientation came to her and asked if she wanted to join her and her friends. Though young Sabrina didn’t particularly like this girl, she didn’t want to burn any bridges so early on in college, nor was she particularly fond of eating her meal alone, so she acquiesced and followed this girl to a table full of people.

Feeling overwhelmed and afraid, she sat in silence at first, listening to the conversation that rose up around her. Soon she found herself engaged with the boy sitting on the other side of orientation girl. They spoke around this girl to continue the conversation they were having, wrapped up in what the other was saying as debate continued. After the meal was over, she went on her way, unsure if she would ever see the boy, or any of these people, again amidst all the people who went to the school.

A few days later, a boy she had met through her roommate introduced her to another boy who happened to be the boy from breakfast, although recollection of him did not register at the time (I’ve always had a rather terrible memory). The three of them sat and talked for awhile before she and breakfast boy, let’s call him Ekkoe, set off by themselves. They found a wall outside of the cafeteria upon which to sit and continued to bond over shared music tastes, each with one ear bud listening to music from their favorite band.

A close friendship quickly developed between Ekkoe and young Sabrina. They had much to bond them together as they shared tales of eerily similar childhood experiences with the church and the disdain that had grown for it. Soon they were practically inseparable along with another friend they had made whom we’ll call Tina. The three of them became a unit, dining together, spending free time together, sleeping over at each others dorms.

One day, Sabrina had a mental breakdown. Recollection fails to provide the reason for the meltdown, but regardless, young Sabrina reacted by running away from Ekkoe and Tina and hiding in a bush near the pond where it was dark and the sound was muffled. She hid there for almost an hour as the two searched for her, eventually tracking her down to her hiding place she thought was secure. It was then that she knew these were friends who were committed to her. They had tracked her down in the night to ensure she was safe, despite only knowing her for a month or so.

As winter approached, both Sabrina and Ekkoe’s mental health began to suffer. Ekkoe had never known the words for what he was experiencing. Sabrina, on the other hand, had been seeing therapists since she was nine years old and had been on medications since she was eleven. Though she didn’t have a formal diagnosis at the time, she suspected she was schizoaffective which for her meant that she experienced the mood swings of bipolar disorder mixed with the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia.

With winter setting in, she began to recognize many of the same traits in Ekkoe. His mood would swing to great heights during which he would bound across campus, scaling trees before leaping from their boughs. He danced across the narrow arm of the bridge that traversed the murky waters below. Then he began to speak of a woman who had come to him in his dreams. He was convinced she was a goddess who had chosen him. He began communicating with this goddess and Sabrina watched as he fell into mental illness. She began to give him the words for what he was experiencing. She told him of mania and depression. She explained hallucinations and delusions. She urged him to seek help.

As time passed, things grew rocky for Sabrina and her boyfriend of three years who had grown jealous of the bond she had developed with Ekkoe. Despite Ekkoe being gay and having a boyfriend of his own, her boyfriend grew more and more jealous, trying to forbid her from hanging out with him.

One day, she was in the bathroom and saw one of those signs of abuse posters. As she read the poster, she realized that almost every sign of emotional abuse listed on the poster was present in her relationship with her boyfriend. He was very controlling of her and was manipulative. After talking things out with Ekkoe and Tina, she knew she needed to break up with him.

The break up went terribly. She had to do it over the phone because he was hours away and she couldn’t wait until the next time they were supposed to see each other. He tried to convince her not to break up. He cried and begged her not to do this, but she held strong. Then, her best friend from back home, Tara, got involved. Tara and Sabrina had been best friends throughout the last two years of high school and had maintained a friendship when they both went off to separate schools. Yet Tara took the boyfriend’s side and an argument erupted between the two friends over facebook that lasted for days. The end of the argument was the end of the friendship.

Sabrina began to spend even more time with Ekkoe who had also recently broken up with his boyfriend. She had recently had the fortune to end up in a room by herself after some pretty terrible roommate situations, and so Ekkoe began staying with her almost every night. They would often cuddle at night, enjoying the warmth of another’s embrace. When spring break rolled around, the two were some of the few to stay on campus. They marathoned movies as Ekkoe tried to help makeup for Sabrina’s sheltered childhood.

As the weeks passed, Sabrina found herself becoming attracted to Ekkoe.  However, she quickly pushed down those feelings as she knew that nothing would come of it since he was gay and she was not a man. Soon, it was as if she had never had feelings for him and their friendship continued on, growing stronger still.

The summer was long and lonely when Sabrina returned home. Her closest friends from home were no longer speaking to her (and in fact, Tara had started dating Sabrina’s ex). She Skyped often with Ekkoe and Tina, often talking late into the night. She also worked as much as she could, trying to save up money for the coming year. It was at work, as the summer drew to a close, that she met the man who would change her forever.

The Forgotten Years

The scalding days of summer were beginning to give way to the more mild days of autumn when Sabrina first met Chris. They had passed each other many times at work, but had never before spoken. She found him very attractive and was working up the nerve to introduce herself when one day he began to talk to her. They quickly exchanged numbers and began talking more and more. She was giddy with excitement when she told Ekkoe and Tina of her new fling. She never expected it to last more than a couple weeks as she was returning to school and didn’t want another long-distance relationship.

Those weeks, however, seemed magical. They spent a great deal of time together at his house watching movies and talking. He would play the guitar for her and she would sing along. He introduced her to new music that soon became a part of her music collection. So it was that when it came time for her to return to school, they decided to try to make it work.

And here is where our story becomes hazy, dear reader, for the next two years of memory are missing from my mind. What follows next is a patchwork of partial recollections and what has been relayed by others.

The first few months passed in blur of new love and excitement. Young Sabrina quickly lost herself in the new relationship, her identity fading as she become more entrenched in being a couple. She was so caught up in the romance of it all that she failed to notice the warning signs that began to present themselves. In an echo of the past, she had found a man who strove to control her. He dictated what she should do with her body, telling her what was allowed and what wasn’t. He made her responsible for his emotional state. It was always her fault. Everything was her fault.

After a few months, Ekkoe confronted her about Chris, trying to convince her to leave him, but Sabrina was too entrenched in the relationship to see the truth. She and Ekkoe fought as she defended Chris and he tried his hardest to convince her to leave. But it was to no avail. She was too caught in the trappings of abuse.

Winter was always hard. The long nights and cold days drained her of energy and sanity. Just weeks into the spring semester, Sabrina’s mental health had deteriorated to the point that she had to leave school. With great shame, she packed her bags and headed home to focus on her mental health.

Upon making it home, she found that she now had a great deal of time to spend with Chris. They spent much of their time together over that spring and summer. When it came time for her to return to school in the fall, her mental health was still unstable and so she took another semester to care for herself, and, in turn, spend more time with Chris.

And so we arrive at Christmas, or just before Christmas. Sabrina awoke one night to Chris having sex with her, raping her. She broke up with him soon after. Though I have no recollection of this, I have journal entries from the time that document what had happened. Yet, a week later, they were back together, tenuous though it may be.

Spring semester arrived and Sabrina returned to school after nearly a year’s absence. She was ecstatic to see Ekkoe and Tina again. The long nights Skyping had not been good enough and it was wonderful to be back in their presence. However, it was around this time that Ekkoe’s mental health issues resurged. He had entered into a psychotic episode in which he hallucinated gruesome things. With much pushing and prodding from Sabrina, he finally sought help. He was put on medications that helped him manage the hallucinations and the depression that struck every winter.

As the new semester began, Ekkoe, Tina, and Sabrina began venturing out to parties, Ekkoe as a bodyguard so that Sabrina and Tina could enjoy themselves without fear. It was at one of the frat parties that Sabrina met a new guy, Andrew, who was pierced and tattooed and very attractive. She and Andrew were soon dating with the understanding that this would only be short term and that he would likely ghost out on her. And so she found herself, for the first time in her life, dating two men.

Her relationship with Chris was rocky as he was not comfortable with her dating Andrew as well, yet she was beginning to find her strength again. She was learning to resist his control, though she was still trapped within his web of abuse. The incident that had occurred near Christmas had been quickly forgotten as her mind tried to protect itself by erasing the memories.  

Andrew was fun and exciting and revitalized Sabrina’s spirit. He was highly intelligent and they could engage in endless conversation about everything from the nature of humankind to theoretical physics. It was one of the best relationships she had ever been in until one day, near the end of the semester, she didn’t hear from him and continued to not hear from him. She knew it was over and, while hurt, she quickly moved on, back into the clutches of Chris’s abuse.

She returned home for the summer and she and Chris resumed their relationship. Without Andrew, there was nothing to keep her from falling into the same old patterns. With only her family and Chris to spend time with, she lost herself even more within the relationship. The abuse didn’t register for her and she carried on.

Here our story resumes from recollection. Two years after the last clear memory is what comes next, forever branded into memory, vivid and clear.

They were at her parents’ house, cuddling in bed watching How to Train Your Dragon. As the movie ended, he began to put the moves on her. She asked if he had a condom and he said no. She said that without a condom nothing would be happening. Before she knew it, she was pinned down and he was inside her. She said no again and again. She struggled to break free. But there was nothing she could do. Finally she gave up and stared at the white ceiling just waiting for it to be over.

For a couple weeks after this happened, she was in denial. They were still together, though things were rocky but they had been for awhile. She didn’t talk to him about it. She convinced herself that it wasn’t a big deal, that this was something completely normal. Finally, she was talking with Tina and another friend via Skype one night about how she was thinking about breaking up with him because it was becoming apparent that their life goals conflicted. As she talked with them, she brought up what had happened. As she spoke about it, the pieces fell together. He had raped her.

The words resonated in her mind, bouncing around and growing louder and inescapable. The person she loved and trusted had shattered that. Someone who supposedly loved her had violated her in one of the worst ways that someone can live through. She knew then and there that she needed to break up with him. She was going to wait two days until they had planned to see each other, but, as it gnawed at her mind, she knew she couldn’t wait.

She broke up with him the next day. She started with the inconsequential reasons like their different plans for life. Finally, she confronted him about what he had done. At first he seemed apologetic. Then he started to turn the blame around on her. He said that she had wanted it. He said that she liked sex so there was nothing wrong with what he had done. She made it home and just cried. She cried in a way that she never had before. She felt as if the sobs would rip apart her chest. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t move. She just cried for hours.

Then, just a week or two later, he started berating her. It started with text messages. He called her a liar and a slut and many other awful things. Then he started posting things on facebook and twitter that were targeted at her.

At first, she moved on, or at least she thought she did. She was in shock. She went about her life pretending nothing had happened. Then, one cold and rainy night, she broke. In the darkest parts of the night, her mind let forth all that had been suppressed. She felt betrayed. This man, the first man she had given her heart and her trust to, had violated her. Her mind spun, the thoughts flying through almost faster than she could process them. She felt alone. Despite her two best friends sleeping on the other side of the room, she felt utterly alone, isolated in with the memory of that moment. And more than ever before in her life, she felt dirty. Every inch of her body felt wrong. She looked upon herself with disgust as his degradation echoed in her mind. She had asked for it. It was her fault.

Fast forward to Halloween weekend. She loved Halloween. She loved getting dressed up and trick-or-treating and going out. She had looked forward to this, hoping that it would help get her out of my funk. The Friday before Halloween, October 28th, she went out to Cabs with Tina to start celebrating Halloween. They were having a great night. They danced with people and had a good time. Sabrina hit it off with a guy and, after checking with Tina, asked him back to their place which was a first for her. Once back at her place, they fooled around a bit. Then he started going farther than she wanted to. She told him no. He kept going. She said no again. She pushed away from him. She kept saying no.

When he was done, he took so long to leave. He seemed to dawdle as he got redressed. He tried to make small talk. She had redressed herself as quickly as possible. She tried everything to get him to just leave. All she wanted in that moment was for him to be gone.

When she finally got him to leave, she woke up Ekkoe and Tina and just told them she needed them. They came with her to her room. All she could say was, “he raped me.” Ekkoe immediately started to leave to chase him down. She convinced him to stay because she needed him with her at that moment.

She was raped around two in the morning. She laid in bed crying until six while Ekkoe and Tina just sat there with her. As the sun was just beginning to rise, Ekkoe convinced her to go to the police station. She spent eight hours dealing with the police. They took pictures of her room. They took the clothes she had been wearing when it happened. She went to the hospital and had a rape kit done. She told her story again and again to too many people.

That monday, she went to the psychological counseling center on campus with Ekkoe. She wanted to talk to someone and find help. She spoke with who she would later find out was the head of the center. Sabrina told this woman her story story. She told her about both rapes. She told her everything. The whole time the therapist referred to her rape as the “alleged assault.” When she had finished pouring herself out, the therapist told her that she needed to consider that the “alleged assault” was at least half her fault.

And this, dear reader, is when the person I am today began. Out of pain and violence I arose. I ripped myself from the clutches of abuse only to find myself getting raped again. But this is when our story changes from one of pain and suffering to one of hope and new beginnings. This is when I found my strength, and, in turn, my calling, and began to become the person I am today.

 

 

Unexpected Love

The months that followed that cold October night were rocky to say the least. My mental health was in a downward spiral and I began to behave quite out of character. I started sleeping around, quickly upping my tally to double digits. I was reckless in my desolation.

Yet, in the depths of my despair, I began looking for ways to help myself. I searched online for resources aimed at rape victims. I found RAINN’s website which I quickly devoured, reading through every page, scouring everything I could find. I found stories from other victims which, depressing as they were, brought me comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. I read other’s writings on their own experiences and saw my pain reflected back at me.

I found feminism and became invested in the movement. I read and read and read the writings of so many feminists. I learned of intersectional feminism and the ways that oppressions can overlap and intersect. I started to write again. I wrote about what was happening in the world, for the first time invested in what was going on in the larger world around me. I wrote about the pain I had endured as a way to process my trauma.

Through it all, Ekkoe and Tina were by my side. Ekkoe held me as I cried and reminded me again and again that it was not my fault. He came with me when I went to the Dean of Student Affairs to report what the therapist had said to me. He stood by my side as I was told by the Dean that he had known this woman for a long time and that didn’t sound like something she would say. He yelled with me about the injustice of it all. He was always there, pushing me to find myself again, outside of a man.

One night, during Astronomy club, I proposed to Ekkoe. We had both decided we had given up on finding anyone after our disastrous dating experiences. We had already talked about living together indefinitely platonically and getting married for the tax benefits, so I decided to make it official. With a ring that barely fit his finger, I proposed to him and he accepted.

Late winter into spring following that fateful halloween were a difficult time physically and mentally for Ekkoe and myself. During this time, I began to experience debilitating pain during my periods. Each month, the pain grew worse and worse until finally I was in pain almost all the time. The pain would strike and knock me off my feet, falling to the ground as I gripped at my mid-section. After a few months of worsening periods, I knew that something was wrong and I began to seek answers. I went to doctor after doctor hoping to find the source of my pain. Each one blew me off; it must not be that bad, all women have painful periods. Finally, I found the answers myself online. After researching all my symptoms, I came to the conclusion it was endometriosis. I went to another doctor and told her my suspicions. She sent me to a specialist who told me that the only way it could be diagnosed was surgery. I jumped at the chance to finally have answers. Going through surgery just a couple months after I found the answer. Surgery confirmed what I already knew. I had endometriosis.

At the same time that I was struggling with the pain I would find out was endometriosis, Ekkoe began having health issues of his own. He found it more and more difficult to walk until finally one side of his body was barely working. He started going to doctors after much prodding and nagging from me, only to be told he should try exercising more which crushed any desire he had to continue seeing doctors. When summer arrived, his symptoms mysteriously cleared up, though that’s not the last you’ll hear of them. He experienced a great deal of depression as his body failed him, though this cleared as the days warmed and the sun shone bright up in the sky once more.

And so we come to early summer. The days were growing ever hotter and we had just moved into a new apartment with Tina. We were only partially unpacked and had only one air conditioner, so Ekkoe and I cuddled on the futon in the living room. We watched That 70’s Show as we attempted to drift off to sleep. As I was caught in the world between waking and dreams, I felt an odd but familiar nudge. Ekkoe had pressed himself up against me and his intentions were all too clear, confusing though they may be. Up until this point, he had never made any indication that he was interested in anyone other than men.

I turned to face him, inquiring in hushed tones as to his intentions. I wanted to make sure he was sure. I didn’t understand what was happening. He had always been my gay best friend. He was interested in men and men alone as had been stated and made evident again and again, and I, alas, was not a man. Yet, this seemed genuine. My heart skipped a beat with the anticipation. When I saw that he was honest in his advances and that he really did want this, my heart fluttered with joy as my stomach dropped with anticipation. We quickly scampered off to our sweltering bedroom, pausing for passionate kisses along the way. Then, in a twist of fate I had imagined but never dreamed would come true, our bodies joined and my heart overflowed with ecstasy, long repressed emotions bubbling up to the surface.

The next day, neither of us spoke of what had transpired in the dark of night. We spent the day together mostly in silence, speaking rarely to the other. My mind whirled with ever worsening thoughts. What if it was bad for him? I was the first woman he had slept with. What if it wasn’t what he expected? What if I was bad at it? What if this had ruined our relationship? What was our relationship now? Was this just a one time thing? Were there emotions involved?

Finally, as the day was drawing to a close, we opened up about what had happened. I asked what this meant for him. He told me he loved me more than a friend and I confessed I felt the same. I admitted that I had loved him since our freshman year, but had forced myself to suppress the feelings so as to not cause issues for the friendship. We agreed that we were now a couple and laughed at the odd course of our relationship. We had moved in together, gotten engaged, and now were dating. Soon we were kissing and engaged in a replay of that night before on the living room floor, too excited to make it to the bedroom.

Our relationship presented a bit of a dilemma, however. You see, Ekkoe and I worked together at the time. Not only that, but he was in a supervisory position over me. We debated what to do and eventually decided to tell our manager after checking the employee handbook to ensure that we couldn’t be fired for dating. When we told her, she was exceptionally confused. She had known Ekkoe for years and didn’t understand how he was dating a woman. Yet, even in her confusion, she was so happy for us. We were told that everything would be fine as long as she didn’t see any signs of bias and that we needed to keep it secret. And so we did, well at least mostly. One of our coworkers found out we were together when she asked who I was dating and I fumbled and blushed at the question. She kept prodding me for info until finally, after swearing her to secrecy, I told her it was Ekkoe. She almost broke her promise immediately as she squealed in excitement, though she too was confused by the situation. As we slowly told those close to us about our relationship, the question “But isn’t Ekkoe gay?” was repeated again and again by almost everyone we told. My grandmother was one of the few not to question it but rather tell us that it was about time.

That summer was the happiest I have ever had. I was overflowing with happiness and excitement at a newfound yet long burning love. We spent as much time as we could together. That’s not to say there weren’t difficulties though. Five years of abusive relationships had warped my mind and my understanding of relationships. Never before had I been in a healthy relationship. I couldn’t help but grow scared if he he seemed anything less than happy with me. More than once I had flashbacks while we were making love, his face warping into Chris’s, his voice transforming, the room transitioning back to where it all happened. Yet, Ekko was so understanding. He stayed by me through all of my flashbacks, doing whatever I needed at the time. He worked me through my terror and helped me find safety again. When the years of abuse showed through in my behavior, he patiently worked with me to process the abuse and work through some of my trauma. He held me as I cried time and time again. He became my safe place.

He has remained my safe place over the four years we have been together. Through the many storms we have weathered together, he has always been my safe harbor. He is the first person I’ve ever been able to effectively talk about my emotions with. He holds me when my mood plummets and all I can do is cry. He celebrates with me when good things happen. He yells with me when the world seems against me. He pushes me to pick myself back up and move forward when I’ve all but given up. As cliche as it may be, I ended up with my best friend, though in a twist that none of us ever expected it was my gay best friend.

When the hot days of summer gave way to beautiful autumn days, my mental health took a dive. The closer we got to Halloween, the worse the mess in brain grew. I was constantly on edge. I cried daily. I was having flashbacks on a regular basis. Yet through it all, Ekkoe was by my side, helping me in whatever ways he could. When the hallucinations came, he knew how to help me as he had firsthand experience with the matter. When his winter depression set in, I did my best to help, relying on my own history of depression to figure out what to do. Together, we helped to ground the other, both more effective at doing so because of our shared experiences with mental illness.

As winter set in, so did Ekkoe’s depression and health problems. He began to have difficulty walking again, losing feeling in part of his body. When his birthday rolled around, I bought him a cane to help him get around. While things were difficult, we managed to keep going by relying on each other. I took over more of the household duties and he helped me keep my mental illness under control. Aside from being my boyfriend, he often felt like a therapist, though far better than any therapist I had ever dealt with. He helped me dig for answers and find the roots of my pain. He guided me through examining myself and helped me find the tools to help myself.

Now let us skip ahead to the end of summer. The anniversary of when we had first met was upon us. Ekkoe took me for a drive to campus to walk around. As we began to walk, I had to sit down because the pain was too much. So the two of sat beneath a weeping willow on campus and began to chat. As we talked, he told me of how much he loved me as he pulled out a small ring box. Inside were two beautiful rings, one of emeralds (my birthstone) and one of garnet (his birthstone) both set in gold bands. I quickly and happily accepted his proposal, my chest overflowing with joy and excitement. He told me he had wanted to take me to the wall where we had first sat listening to music together but wasn’t able to because of my pain. Even still, the thought he had put into his proposal had me glowing. I quickly texted my parents and closest friends a picture of the rings upon my hand. We were surrounded by love and happiness from all those we cared about. After he proposed, he took me for a nice dinner at our favorite restaurant with his sibling who had known about his plans and was his best bro for the wedding.

The next few months were a flurry of trying to plan a wedding. We both wanted something magical with Harry Potter, Avalon, and other magical worlds as our inspiration. However, the more I tried to plan the wedding, the more challenging it became. Everything was so very expensive and there were so many factors involved. Finally, in the dark days of winter, I broke from the stress. I cried to Ekkoe about how I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t plan a wedding. That night we decided that we weren’t going to have a big wedding like we had originally planned, instead we would hold a small ceremony with just family and a few close friends.

After deciding on a date, Pi day because we’re giant nerds, we began to plan our small ceremony. A friend had recently gained the credentials to be able to officiate weddings so that she could officiate the wedding of another friend. She happily agreed to be our officiant and began helping us plan the ceremony itself. We decided to hold the wedding in our apartment as it would be such a small affair. Ekkoe took on the duties of cooking for the wedding as his cooking is fabulous. All the pieces of this wedding came together quickly and beautifully.

The day itself was wonderful. Surrounded by our closest friends and family we exchanged our vows. Mine were carefully planned, drawing from some of my favorite quotes and ideas of love. Ekkoe’s were spontaneous and funny, filled with jokes and love. Our hands were bound in a handfasting ceremony with a cord made of strips of fabric, one from an item of mine, one from an item of his, and one provided by our officiant. When the ceremony was over, the cord was wrapped around our wedding tree and we participated in the obligatory photos before devouring the delicious food Ekkoe had made as well as some decadent cupcakes provided by our best friend Maddie.  Though there were of course some hiccups and difficulties throughout the day, it was one of the happiest days of my life.

It’s now been two years since we were married. Our marriage has had it’s ups and downs, as all relationships do. However, even in the worst of times, we have remained by each other’s sides. Through surgeries, spinals taps, psychosis, autistic burnout, and much more, we have stayed strong together. When I began to explore whether or not I was autistic, Ekkoe’s response was “Of course.” He helped me begin the process of finding information and learning about my autistic self. He patiently listened as I info-dumped about all I was learning. As I have discovered my gender, he has worked to be more conscientious of how he refers to me. We have both grown and changed immensely, shaped by our experiences with chronic illness and mental illness, yet through it all we have grown together.

Even as I write this we face our struggles. Ekkoe’s illness is still undiagnosed though the doctors are debating between Lupus and Multiple Sclerosis. He now has to use a wheelchair when going anywhere that would require much walking. A recent foray into psych meds threw him into a psychotic and manic episode that lasted about a month that he is only just now recovering from. My depression has been simmering beneath the surface for months and has been poking it’s head out in the form of meltdowns and mental spirals. Along with endometriosis, I am now facing other physical health issues that we don’t yet have answers for. Not a week goes by wherein neither of us have a doctor’s appointment. Yet we still find the time and spoons to visit with our closest friends and to find ways to enjoy our lives. We face many difficulties, but we still enjoy our lives.

It is, in fact, because of the difficulties we have each faced that we make such a great couple. Our shared experience with mental illness and chronic pain has better prepared us to be good partners for each other. Not only has it been a point of bonding for us, but each of our own individual journeys with mental illness have provided us with the coping skills and understanding to truly be able to help each other.

You may be wondering why my story includes all it does. Why must the horrors of my past be a part of the story? Because they were fundamental in shaping the  person I’ve become and I had to become the person I am now for our relationship to work. While I would not wish the pain and trauma of rape onto anyone, I can recognize the ways that my experiences shaped me. In the face of the worst pain of my life, I had to shine through. I grew stronger as I fought day in and day out to continue onwards. In my darkest hours, I found my strength and my passion. I found myself again, not the shell of a person that years of abuse had turned me into. I had to break through and become myself to be someone who could be in a healthy and happy relationship.

Your disability may make it seem like you will never find love. You may feel that you’re destined to be alone, or that you couldn’t possibly make a relationship work due to mental illness or physical illness, but I want to tell you there is hope. It is possible to find love and happiness even in the face of mental and physical illness. It will always have it’s challenges, but all relationships do. Further, the struggles we face as the result of our disabilities often shape us into people who are better prepared for the normal challenges of a relationship.

Throughout my life, I never truly felt at home. I was always the weird kid, the one who didn’t fit in. I felt like an outside my whole life. That is, until I met Ekkoe. Long before we were a couple, he was the person I cared for most in the world. He was my lighthouse in the storms I faced, a beacon guiding me to safety. He has been a constant force by my side, helping me fight my battles while never taking away my agency. Together we are stronger. Together we are able to take on the world and all it throws at us. In him, I have found home.