This is part of the Dating & Disabilities Series.
Lisa and Gerry live in Hamilton, Ontario. She has a few conditions that make living somewhat difficult. These include our common condition of Ataxia. Her Ataxia has pushed her into a rollator. She is also “blessed” with double vision and epilepsy. She is, without a doubt, one of the most active and cheerful people I have met.
Here is what she said in response to our questions.
Can you tell us a little about the difficulties in your life before meeting your partner?
My Ataxia wasn’t diagnosed until after I met Gerry in 1998. My ataxia wasn’t too bad when I met him. I just always thought I was clumsy. The double vision that I’d had since I was a teenager was still relatively mild, compared to how it is now. I was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 10, after having 3 grand mal seizures. After those first seizures, I didn’t have one again for 8 years. For the years from 18 to now (49), I have averaged 2-3 seizures a year.
Were you completely happy with your health, living situation and financial situation?
I was OK with where my health was at. Living and financial situations weren’t as good.
Did you feel like you are a person with a big circle of friends, family, and social circle? Has this (non-romantic) group helped you to cope with difficult situations?
Were you in a serious relationship before acquiring a disability? How was your disability affecting relationships/friendships that you were already a part of?
No, I wasn’t in a serious relationship until I met Gerry in 1988. I have always had my disabilities. Epilepsy from age 10 and Ataxia from birth. I wasn’t very symptomatic until about 15 years ago. My disabilities haven’t affected my friendships, really. I am very blessed with many awesome longstanding friendships, most 20+ years old at least.
How did you meet your partner and how long have you been together?
We met at church… January 1988, married December 1989.
Did you wait before revealing your disability, and what reaction did your partner have to it?
I don’t specifically remember, but I probably told him about epilepsy for safety reasons when we started dating (approx summer 1988). He reacted fine. No big deal. We didn’t really know about the Ataxia back then. We have learned, experienced it together.
Are the major difficulties in your relationship, problems that are common to most couples in general? Or are there disagreements that are mainly centred on disability?
I would say they are common to most couples in general. Gerry is awesome when it comes to my disabilities! I don’t think they cause problems. Unless it is him looking out for me and helping me slow down when I need to.
What are some relationship tools or strategies that you use to overcome disputes or disagreements?
Sex is an important part of human relationships. How have you managed your intimacy with your partner considering that they may be limitations or maybe you have to create your own routines? Communication between partners is very important – any tips to share?
We enjoy this part of our relationship. Our issues in this area are common to other couples as well. I mean, we have to give extra care to me being safe and falling (down, over, or off the bed!) But that’s not a big deal to us…we often laugh, or at least smile, about it.
We may assume that a couple with a disabled partner would have a reduced earning ability. Does the financial strain create problems for your children or partner because you are limited by the places you can go or ways you can give gifts to your loved ones?
For a long time, Gerry worked 2 jobs (70 hours/week). There were extenuating circumstances in our relationship (not related to my disabilities) that led to that.
Has your participation in religious activities helped you in managing life with a disability and increased your circle of friends? Has it caused any new issues that you didn’t expect to face?
My participation in religious activities (my relationship with God) has helped immensely, both in terms of me being able to rely on my faith in challenging times and in terms of increasing my circle of friends. My spiritual brothers and sisters are amazing in how they help and encourage me! No issues at all. People often say I am an inspiration to them. I don’t know about that, but amen! I’m just doing my best living my life for God where I’m at!
(RV’s note: Lisa has two beautiful daughters)
Do you feel that there is any social stigma around a parent with a disability having a baby? Do you plan on having any children yourself? What challenges have you faced or think you will face if you were to have a newborn?
A wise friend of mine said many years ago that it was a good thing that God’s plan for my life included Gerry and me having our 2 children when I was age 26 and 28. There had been hardly any progression, even much evidence of my symptoms back then. My Ataxia was still undiagnosed. Now, I could not cope with having a baby. I cannot hold or pick up a baby unless I am sitting. (I don’t use a wheelchair). So I certainly didn’t experience any social stigma. Having a disabled mom, though, has helped my girls immensely in terms of their care, compassion, and love for other people with or without disabilities. My girls look out for me!