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Symbiosis by Val Brosseau

Updated: Nov 12, 2022

I am a rubber ball a child has thrown haphazardly across the room, and I am pinballing off of surfaces and corners, painting a jagged path across the room. I am speaking in wind gusts and my mind is creating, shouting, running at 100 miles per hour. My fiancé is concerned.

“Is this mania?”

But I am fine. I am more than fine. I am the sun that always returns after it kisses the horizon good night: I am the infinite blue of the sky: I am all possibility. That’s not grandiose: it’s just the truth.

“Slow down.”

But slow is a sweater made of itchy yarn. It may be well-intentioned, but I have no desire to wear it.

“Maybe it’s the new meds?”

The new meds are great, I feel great. Everything is great.

Until it’s not. I suddenly collapse onto the kitchen floor. I am a puddle of heaving sobs. The possibility dies and the sky dulls. I am shaking, I cannot stop crying. He carefully lowers himself. He sits on the floor behind me and holds me. He squeezes me tight and rocks me back and forth. Between pained cries, I apologize. He tells me I have nothing to apologize for. Adjusting to new medication is never easy.

When we started seeing each other, a few of my friends felt they had to ask “the hard questions.” Did I want to be dating someone with multiple sclerosis? Was I worried about what this meant in terms of his limitations? How would his chronic illness impact my life? It was something I considered but I was in love. I was thinking with the part of me that longed for him to be my home, the part of me that melted when he winked at me.

He is my match. Not solely in the way that we are perfectly partnered, but in the way that he lights the flames that push me forward. He fills the room with oxygen and strikes a fire that feeds my goals and dreams. We are engaged to be married. And his illness? I support him the best I can because he supports me.

I have borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. I have had three suicide attempts. I have struggled with self-harm. My challenges can sometimes be a tidal wave that he must swim through.

I have been in treatment and on medication for 10 years, and I have worked extremely hard to learn to manage my symptoms, but they still can be difficult to grapple with. My suicidal thoughts are chronic; they are like being in the orbit of a very large planet and being pulled back in every time I manage to drift slightly away. My bipolar depression is all-consuming; it leaves me in a darkness his fire can barely reach. My BPD symptoms are at times infuriating. And yet he sticks around. He holds my trust like the earth holds a sapling and makes me unlearn all the dysfunctional patterns of partners past.

I sometimes forget that his illness is a daily battle, much like mine. He is stoic. He is unwavering. He does not complain – that would be unproductive. That would be a waste of time. But sometimes we have to acknowledge that “this sucks,” “this isn’t fair.” Fair is not a label either of us would attach to our lives with enthusiasm.

It is 2:00am. He wakes up to use the washroom and sneaks out of bed. I stir. I am in the place between dreaming and waking where the world feels like seeing things underwater. But I listen. I know his legs are unsteady when he has just woken up. His body needs time to uncoil and regain its range of motion, a range which is still limited by the illness he lives with. I listen because I want to be there to help should he fall between the bed and the washroom.

He is better than me. He almost never forgets about the ways my brain tricks me and the somersaults and parkour it performs to make me miserable. He reminds me to take my meds. He asks me what tools or skills I can use to manage my emotions. He hides the blades.

I sometimes walk too fast. I forget his body is fighting against him with every step. I sometimes get impatient. I often put my needs first. I am selfish. I want to be his safe space: I want to be the place his head can rest easy. I need to do better. I need to be as good to him as he is to me.

As I was writing this piece, I asked him if he had any thoughts I could include.

“Chronic illness sucks.”

Succinct, compelling, true. Perhaps he is secretly a writer as well.

Symbiosis occurs in three different ways. Parasitism. When one organism leeches from the other, causing harm. Commensalism. When an organism gains what it needs from another without being detrimental to its well-being. Mutualism is the goal; a symbiotic relationship where both organisms gain and prosper.

Who would have thought that symbiosis would be possible for organisms each facing their own afflictions? We ease the weight on each other’s chests so we can breathe easier. He is the anemone that I call home. I am the fish who provides him with what he needs. Hopefully.

Chronic illnesses do suck. It is never easy. I am glad my friends asked the hard questions, but I always knew the answer. No. I am not worried. I am not doubting. I am not hesitant.

I always say “You have to love me.” He always answers “I GET to love you.”

I may feel broken but I get to be loved. He may face challenges, but he is capable of a love I never knew was possible.


Valéry was born in Montréal, Canada. She has always been a writer. She writes to express, release and connect. She has always said that her goal is to write something that means something to somebody. She is a passionate public speaker and mental health advocate and much of her poetry explores what she experiences as a person with mental illness. She now lives in Toronto with her husband Shane and their dog Wellington.

You can find her at


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