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How we met: ‘I was trying to look sexy while I explained I had a chronic illness’

When Jenny Brownlees became unwell with chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as ME) in her teens, she never thought love would be part of her future. “By the time I turned 18, I was virtually housebound. I’d left school, and I was constantly in pain.” Despite her illness, she says, her neighbour Adam Meritt caught her eye. “It sounds crazy, but when I saw him out of the window, I said I loved him.” He had also spotted her and was keen to get to know her.

In early 2008, Jenny and Adam, who lived in Newcastle upon Tyne, attended an event to raise funds for a local ME charity. “My twin brother was doing the photography, so I decided to go,” he says. “I knew Jenny would be there, and I wanted a chance to meet her.” At the time, he had no idea she was unwell. Sparks flew as soon as they met, and they chatted away for the next four hours.

“There was this awful Elvis impersonator, and we laughed all night,” Jenny says. She also told him about her condition. “It’s hard to know when the right time is. I was sitting there trying to look sexy while I explained that I had a chronic illness.” Adam admits he didn’t know much about it. “It sounded scary, but I didn’t care. I just knew I really liked her.” The prognosis was bleak, and doctors were doubtful she would make a recovery. “I think I always knew she’d get better and, even if she didn’t, I would have cared for her anyway.”

They swapped numbers, and Jenny asked him if he would like to go on a date. “Because of my illness, it was hard to go out. I admitted how much I missed the park, and that I dreamed of walking a dog there and seeing streets lined with daffodils.” Adam borrowed a neighbour’s dog before he went to see her. “I took the dog, some Woolworths pick ’n’ mix and a bunch of daffodils. We walked up the road together.” Jenny began struggling to keep up after 20 metres. “It was the first time I realised how ill she was. I just wanted to help her.”

Living two doors apart meant the couple could regularly visit each other’s houses instead of the pub. “We both had attic rooms, and we could shout through the windows to each other,” laughs Adam. “Luckily, I had a good DVD collection, too.”

Although she adored Adam, Jenny was frustrated by her situation. “It’s hard to have the person you’ve started dating see you at your worst. But I didn’t have a choice.” She was upset that they could not travel or go for meals like other couples. “I explained that we could do all that if she got better,” says Adam. “But ultimately it wouldn’t matter, as we had so much fun together.”

Gradually, Jenny began to recover with Adam supporting her throughout. “My recovery was up and down, which was emotional and uncertain,” she says. By the time she was 24, she was well enough to pursue her dream of fashion journalism. “I’d written about my illness, and I was offered a placement at Elle magazine in London,” she says. Although she felt guilty leaving, Adam was her biggest supporter. For the next few years, she worked as a freelance writer, travelling back and forth between London and Newcastle.

“I was a personal trainer,” says Adam. “It was flexible and we saw each other as much as we could.” They took holidays, as well as going for meals and meeting friends. “Everything felt special. I remember being so happy just to go to the cinema for the first time,” says Jenny.

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At the start of 2018, Jenny moved back to Newcastle so that they could buy a house together. “I still work freelance while Adam has trained for a job in the emergency services here.” The couple plan to marry and have children.

“Jenny is so caring, affectionate, clever and creative,” says Adam. “I couldn’t imagine my life without her.” Jenny is just as smitten as the first time she glimpsed him outside her window. “Adam makes me laugh every day. It sounds cheesy to say we are soulmates, but it felt as if we knew from the first time we met.”

www.theguardian.com

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