As I’m trying to write this, my heart skips a beat a couple times in a row — just like it always does before a panic attack. This is what happens when I start to think about him. It’s what always happens now when I think about what I went through to stay with the person I loved.

 * * *

It starts out like any other relationship.

You meet a cute guy. You start to like him. He starts to like you. And after weeks of “talking” (which is pretty much acting like you’re in a relationship without being official yet), he asks you to be his girlfriend.

But unlike some relationships, my ex-boyfriend took weeks to ask me to be his girlfriend. It took him weeks to decide if he wanted to fully commit to everything that comes with loving me — everything that comes with loving someone with muscular dystrophy.

I should’ve known then. I should have seen that his uncertainty of my situation was a red flag, but the excitement of a new relationship completely distracted me.

And for the first few months our relationship seemed perfect. We didn’t fight. He didn’t care if he had to help me with something I couldn’t physically do. We were always laughing. We were having fun.

But then as time went on, I started to see it.

He would “jokingly” tell me to go get my own drink or food. Or tell me to get out of my chair and walk up the steps when I would go over his house, even though he knew I’ve never even stood up in my life.

But since he always called me beautiful and was sweet to me all of the time, I let it go. I thought that made it OK.

More time passes by. It’s been more than a year now. He tells his sarcastic “jokes” more often now and I’m told I’m being “too sensitive” if it makes me cry.

It’s OK, though. He still calls me beautiful all of the time and kisses me a lot. He must really care about me.

We try to have a romantic night together after going out on a date, but it doesn’t turn out well. He gets frustrated and ends up telling me, “I look better with my shirt on.” He only says it that one time, but that one time is enough to leave a scar.

He starts telling me he thinks I’m sexy and beautiful again. I think things are getting better. But he likes to talk about how sexy other girls are, too. He does it almost every day now and I tell him it’s OK. He doesn’t know I’m secretly jealous of each girl he looks at.

He tells me the type of body he likes. I don’t fit that description.

I try to look nice for him and he tells me I look beautiful, but his eyes can’t keep still. I think I didn’t try hard enough. Now I’m even more jealous of the girls he points out to me.

We’ve been together for awhile now. I think it’s time I told him I’m falling in love with him. I finally get the courage to say it while we’re cuddling in bed. He gets a blank look on his face. He tells me he doesn’t know what to say.

But that’s OK, right? He still acts like he loves me.

Months go by. We’ve been together for more than two years now. I ask him why he still hasn’t told me he loves me. He says it’s because he’s not sure of our future together. He says he doesn’t know if he can handle having to help me all of the time later on in life. I don’t want to start a fight so I change the subject.

I cry later that night, but I let it go. He doesn’t know how much it hurts me, but it’s OK. I am probably just being too sensitive.

I see him getting annoyed more often now. Almost every time I see him he talks about how frustrating and horrible my disease is. He used to tell me all of the things he has to help with me is worth it to be with me. Now he tells me that I would be perfect without my disease.

I can feel myself getting angry with him whenever he says things like this. But I stay quiet since I don’t want to cause a fight.

I’ll bring it up to him again and ask him why he said those things. He says he never said them. Our conversation leads to nowhere. I let it go.

He makes it clear that he hates my disease. I feel bad that he has to choose between dealing with having to help me all of the time to be with me or losing me. I’m starting to hate it too.

I’m starting to think he would be better off without me.

I have those thoughts for awhile. They almost lead me to hurt myself. Somehow I find the strength not to, but not enough strength to leave what put me there in the first place.

He complains at least once every time I see him now. He tells me how annoying it is to have to pick me up so I can sit on his lap or so we can cuddle on the couch. And if something started to hurt me while we were on the couch, I would see him get that angry, annoyed look on his face if I asked him to help me move.

A few more months pass. It’s the summer of my 19th birthday. I ask him to go to the beach with me and my friends for a few days to celebrate. The first night we’re there I start to feel pain from lying on one side for too long. After almost an hour of lying in pain, I finally get his attention when he gets up to go to the bathroom. I ask him to help me turn over to the other side. He tells me he’s too tired and goes back to sleep.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. That’s when I started to be afraid of him.

I can feel him grab me just a little too hard when I ask him to move me — push me just a little too hard when he would help me turn in bed. He only does it every once in awhile, so it’s OK. He didn’t mean to do it.

He still tells me I’m beautiful and amazing all of the time. So he must care about me, right?

More time goes by. It’s been more than three years now. It’s Christmas time, about a month after we celebrated our third anniversary. He takes me to the mall to go Christmas shopping and I ask him if we can go into one of my favorite stores. He doesn’t want to go in. I try to ask him again to let me go in. He pushes my hand off the joystick on my wheelchair and starts driving me away from the store. I yell at him to stop, but he keeps doing it until we’re far away from it. I try to push him off of it, but I’m not strong enough.

I can’t control myself. I start crying and break down right in the middle of the mall. I don’t know why I can’t stop.

I’ve never felt this scared before. He made me realize how weak I am and how he could do anything he wanted to me and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

He tells me he just got annoyed. He thought I started crying because I didn’t get to go into the store. He didn’t mean to do it.

Now I’m even more afraid of the person I thought I knew.

He starts being sweet to me for the rest of the night. He probably just didn’t think about what he was doing. It’s OK, he didn’t mean it. He still acts like he loves me.

Another six months go by. I have to get back surgery so I can start a new medicine that has to be injected into my spine. The first surgery didn’t work and they have to do it again. I ended up having to stay in the hospital for almost three weeks. He tells me he’s worried about me and is going to surprise me. That surprise never came.

We finally get to see each other after I get out of the hospital. I listen to him try to explain why he didn’t come visit me. He doesn’t apologize, but I let it go. The argument will never end if I don’t.

I start the new medicine that is helping my muscles get stronger. I show him how much I’ve improved after only a week. He smiles, but as the weeks go on, it disappears.

My progress is starting to slow down a little and I’m not getting stronger as fast as I did in the beginning. He’s expecting me to be able to stand and walk soon. He’s expecting me to be able to completely take care of myself so he doesn’t have to.

The muscle strength I am getting isn’t good enough. I’m starting to feel like I’m not good enough… again.

I can still feel him grab me a little too hard when he helps me move. But it’s happening more often now. Sometimes he’ll grab my wrist too hard and it will still be hurting after he helps me put my arm on my chair’s armrest. It’s OK though, he didn’t mean it.

I’m starting to feel like I’m a burden to him. I don’t dare try to ask for help anymore because I know the look and the words I’ll get. And I know it will make me want to cry, but I can’t do that in front of him.

I don’t want to stay, but I’m scared to leave. This is the only life I’ve known for years. He’s the only one I’ve ever dated. The only one I’ve ever loved.

But I know if I stay I’ll fall again. And I don’t know if I’ll have enough strength to get back up like I did the first time.

* * *

I wasn’t strong enough to end the relationship myself, but the day he left was the day I gained all of that strength back I had lost over the years.

In the few months that he’s been gone, I found myself again. I’m no longer that angry, depressed girl I became when I was with him. I’m no longer that girl questioning the existence of her life because of the things the person who “loved” her was telling her.

The life I had is gone now, but that doesn’t mean the memories don’t affect me.

The summer after I first started college, about two years into the relationship, I began to have panic attacks. They would come out of nowhere — they would make me feel dizzy and make my heart race when I wasn’t even stressed about anything.

Or so I thought I wasn’t.

The panic attacks started to come every day, maybe a couple times a day. I started to believe there was something wrong with my heart since it would constantly race and skip beats. I spent the whole summer at the doctor’s office and wearing heart monitors, just to find out I had developed anxiety.

I noticed that the attacks happened more often when I was around him. And if I thought about something hurtful he did, it was almost certain that one was on its way.

I’ve been to counseling on and off since the attacks started. No one has officially diagnosed with me with any disorders, but I know having panic attacks almost every day isn’t normal.

Since the relationship ended, my depression seemed to almost vanish and the panic attacks seemed to lessen. But the memories I still have of my ex can still pop up on me and make me feel like I used to.

Trying to date again has never been more complicated. I know the person I have feelings for isn’t my ex, but my mind still tries to trick me into believing he will be. My mind tries to tell me to stay away, even though I want to give it a chance.

And even though my ex never hit me or physically abused me, he did enough damage as though he did.

I will probably never understand my reasons for staying with someone who was emotionally abusive towards me. But that’s the thing. I didn’t even realize he was abusive until he was gone.

If you’re in a relationship that’s similar to this one, don’t wait. You could be compromising your mental and physical health, and your well-being. Don’t stay until it’s too late to undo the damage.

Don’t be like me.

I stayed because I was more afraid to be alone. And that almost cost me my faith.

Don’t stay until it’s too late. Your life is worth more than any relationship.

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Author: Melissa Young