I was four months from graduating with a degree in psychology, with a post-graduation job secured, when I collapsed one morning at university. Shortly after, I was diagnosed with ME, a debilitating and life-changing condition. Before the illness, I had been a full-time student and athlete. Suddenly I couldn’t walk or eat or speak coherently. Following my diagnosis, my partner, Ashley, died. I was grief stricken and lost.
In the wake of these two significant events, my friend, Courtney, was amazing, supporting me both through my illness and the death of my previous partner. We grew closer and began to speak to each other every day. It was vital to have someone in my life that understood my condition, supported me through the loss of a friend, and who I had so much in common with. For the first time in a long time, something was going right for me.
Courtney and I swapped messages, photos, phone and video calls throughout my recovery, as I learned to manage ME. She eventually came to the UK for an extended trip. Despite having done nothing wrong, she was grilled by the border staff; it terrified her. It was an awful start to what was supposed to be a bright spot of happiness for the two of us. Nevertheless, after hours of waiting, we met and embarked on an amazing visit. Courtney was a glimmer of hope after so much heartbreak.
In 2014, I mustered the strength to journey to the USA after years of illness. I was exhausted but pleased to be with my girlfriend, even if I did spend most of the time indoors. Before returning to the UK, I asked Courtney’s mother if I could marry her daughter. She welcomed me with open arms.
Despite her mother’s warmth, I was nervous about proposing to Courtney; I imagine anyone on the brink of such a question experiences similar butterflies of anxiety. We took a drive to the Alexander Springs in Florida and, although my illness doesn’t allow me to stand for long, I went into the springs and asked a surprised Courtney to marry me.
She was over the moon: we were best friends, lovers, and each other’s rock. Her mother sent us to a restaurant to celebrate. When we returned, we found a personalised engagement cake decorated with our names in my favourite colour.
My mother and I began to plan the wedding once I arrived in the UK. Within a few weeks, I was taken ill and admitted to hospital. Another virus was confirmed and, as I have an awfully low immune system, I was kept in. I was scared of not being able to walk again, and Courtney was not with me.
My friend contacted Courtney in the USA. She was beside herself and desperately wanted to come to the UK to be with me. But, we were afraid that border control would send her home and we would struggle to see each other after that. The following week, I was discharged. Despite agonizing pain, I was pleased to be home, but knew that being without Courtney was not good for my health.
Then a letter from the government arrived: despite my condition, I had been denied PIP support. I felt very alone, with no income and no help from PIP. Even once we are married, Courtney cannot move to the UK because I do not have the income. No consideration is given to the financial situation of my family, who will provide me with financial support once I finish my degree. In terms of my health, I am currently better off in the UK, but not without Courtney. We are heartbroken; despite our clean criminal records, savings, and help from family, we cannot be together. Each direction I turn, the government rejects our relationship.
Courtney works, making headway toward becoming veterinarian. I am finishing my degree and have the ability to work from home. Currently, I face the reality of being forced to move abroad or leave her; I’m not able to be with my wife. Yet, we wish, desperately, to build a family and care for each other here – in the UK.