Introducing IPF In A New Relationship
Have you ever contemplated how or when to disclose your chronic illness in a new relationship? This has been my experience pretty consistently since being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) nearly three years ago.
When I refer to relationship, I don’t necessarily mean the obvious one of a spouse or intimate partner. There are many different kinds of relationships we have in our lives, such as: mother-daughter, brother-sister, and even professional relationships between ourselves as an employee to a supervisor (employer). Since each of these relationships are unique, so is the way I’ve chosen to introduce the fact that I have a life-threatening lung disease. When I was diagnosed in April 2016, I knew some people would be able to handle the information well, others would choose to cope through denial and some people in different relationships would do whatever they could to help me. This was a really complicated stage of life for me because I had to tailor news of my disease to each relationship I had in my life (ie. friends, family, colleagues, etc).
When I hear of people newly diagnosed with IPF, or when friends experience any type of new diagnosis, I often wonder: how will they introduce or disclose this in the different relationships in their lives? I think about it because it isn’t easy initially, and its not easy to continue doing with new relationships that form in our lives either. Here are some of the things I think about when deciding when or how to introduce IPF into a new relationship:
- Will this person leave me? Lets face the facts: IPF is a life-threatening lung disease, which means that inevitably it will end my life (without a transplant). The very idea of this can be too much for people, especially those who worry about losing people in their lives to death, which is a very real fear called thanatophobia. Even without this, some people don’t want to be in any type of relationship with someone who is going to die prematurely. Perhaps it is too painful for them to anticipate, and thus, it is a very real possibility that new people who learn about my illness will leave me once I disclose my IPF.
- How much do I share initially? For me, this question is all about finding the balance between sharing too much and too little. My approach mirrors how I tell difficult news to the children in my practice: I give a few details and follow their lead. Parents often ask me how much detail should their child know about something, and my response is to let them decide this. I use the same approach when determining how much to share about my own illness. I tell people a little bit, and trust that if they need or want more information, they will ask me. If they don’t ask, their curiosities have been met.
How have you introduced your IPF/PF diagnosis into different relationships?
Do you have any tips to share?
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