My Final Contingency on Love

Learning to be open about who I am, and how I got here.

Tracy Mulholland
P.S. I Love You
7 min readNov 17, 2020


Tracy Mulholland

Dating is an absurd concept when you have nerve pain in your arms so debilitating that your sister has to brush your teeth for you.

At a time when several of my friends were getting married and the rest were searching for love or lust, I didn’t date or touch anyone. For three years.

So when I noticed him across the wedding cocktail reception, his suit jacket hugging his defined shoulder as he raised his arm in a toast, I wasn’t looking for the single guy who wore a tux well.

My friend whispered, “That’s Liam. Single, smart, nice, and obviously cute.”

I responded as I usually did, “I’m not dating right now.”

She grinned. “Perfect, he lives in Australia anyway.”

During the first two years of my dating hiatus, I was disabled from what would later be diagnosed as late-stage Lyme disease. I lost the use of both arms, and at times my voice and sight in my left eye.

My sister moved in with me. She combed my hair, cut my food, and changed the channel on the TV, because even pressing a button on a remote caused the constant throbbing, burning, and shooting in my forearms to spike unbearably.

The pain and exhaustion made it impossible to walk more than one block or read more than one paragraph. I moved only within a three yard radius — from my bed, to the couch, to the bathroom. I spent days in silence on vocal rest, the nerves in my vocal chords wanting to show my arms that they, too, could play dirty.

I was misdiagnosed by more than fifty practitioners over the two years until I got a correct diagnosis.

Then, after a year of treatment, I was functioning at sixty percent and regaining the ability to take care of myself very slowly. I alternated between doctor appointments and physical, mental health, or pain management therapy daily. I took dozens of supplements, tinctures, and medications on a meticulously planned schedule, eight times a day.

In those three years, I sealed away the romantic and sexual parts of myself. I wasn’t wanting for desire, I was wanting to survive. But when I started making small improvements — turning door knobs, making my bed, and grabbing an occasional brunch again, friends and family brought up dating.

“That’s ridiculous,” I told them.

Instead of lingerie, the top drawer of my dresser was pill bottles. I couldn’t push myself up with my hands, let alone romp in the sheets. And I had to limit activity with my arms, like typing or cleaning, to fifteen minutes, three times a day. Set to a timer.

I couldn’t let anyone see that. No one would want that. What could I possibly offer someone? I was dead weight and they should find a woman who wasn’t.

Lyme treatment is an uncertain road and I didn’t know when or if I could guarantee I would be able-bodied. Maybe when I was at ninety percent, I could date. But even if I got there, with possible relapses, I couldn’t guarantee I’d stay there, so I probably couldn’t date then either.

This line of thinking wasn’t new though. Before I got sick, I had flings and transitory boyfriends, but there was always a contingency on being open to long-lasting love. The fat surrounding my belly button that appeared out of nowhere one day in seventh grade, obviously had to go before I could end up with someone. The cystic acne on my chin that constantly prevented me from socializing, certainly needed to vanish before true love could happen. And as I started acting professionally, being a series regular on a TV show definitely was required before I could consider having a life partner.

And now, I had baggage to eclipse all baggage. Baggage that had to be checked at the airport with “fragile” taped on it. Hell, I probably had to ship it in advance with a company that dealt with irregular packaging.

But when Liam appeared next to me as we were ushered into the dining room, I blurted, “I heard you traveled the farthest to get here!”

He complimented my hair. “Thanks,” I replied, “It’s not natural.” He laughed quietly as we found our separate table assignments. “The curls, I mean. I have curly hair, but I re-curled it.” My flirting skills were rusty.

A month before the wedding, I forced myself on a few dates, to appease my mom. It was spectacularly terrifying. I was constantly worried when or how I should reveal my big unacceptable secret. On the first or third date? If I did it on the third, should I hint on the first? How much detail should I go into? A ten second mention or a several minute disclosure? I practiced what I would say like it was an audition, but for a part I wasn’t sure I was good enough to get.

When I did fumble through telling them, filled with fear-induced heart palpitations, their reactions were fine. But I barely heard it through my own noise. My irregular cardiac rhythms were already telling me the truth. I was not enough.

I resolved to go back on the dating bench. Where I belonged.

And yet, there was Liam, standing at the bar after dinner, his smile unavoidable to my eyes. I could dance to one last Bruno Mars song with the girls, give the bride an emotional hug, and head home early. But I felt compelled to be near that smile.

We talked for ten minutes, leaning on the bar and into each other. “Why are you talking to me?” he asked. “I live on another continent and can’t be dating material for you.”

Taken aback, but pulled to his candor, I quipped, “Does talking need to have a purpose?”

But why was I talking to him? By flirting with Liam, I was flirting with boundaries I had set for myself. Perhaps they were wrong.

“Are you where you want to be in your career?” he inquired.

On the high of transparency, I said, “I’ve had to take time off for medical issues.”

He asked what happened. I’d walked myself to the ledge, my big unacceptable secret about to be revealed, where normally my heart would start drum practice and I would consider deflecting.

But instead I said without hesitation, “I have Lyme disease.” And in the pause after, I felt ready to hear and handle a potentially negative response.

But Liam responded kindly with intelligent questions. He was excited when I said I had to stop drinking. A transcendental meditation guy, he saw the benefits of being present without adulteration. Not drinking, something I deemed a buzzkill for a potential mate, excited him?

We meandered to chairs far from the party, set under white lights strung in the oak trees. Liam opened up about his recent breakup. I spoke about friends that fell away during my illness. “I’m surprised I talked to you,” I stated. “I’m surprised I complimented you,” he replied.

He placed his hand on mine and looked at me intently, “If I lived in LA, I would ask you out.”

I inhaled slowly. “I would like that.”

We watched as the guests said goodbye. Liam said it would be nice to hold me. I concurred. But continuing our candid dialogue, we agreed sharing a bed for only a few hours before his flight was not for us. He invited me to hang out at the hotel with his friends. It was approaching my bedtime and if I didn’t get ten hours of sleep, I risked a tailspin of added fatigue and pain for a week. And there were a handful of magnesium pills I needed to take waiting for me at home.

I was about to leave when I felt compelled again. Magnesium could wait a few hours. I could gamble with my sleep for once.

After the friend sharing his room went to bed, we sat on the hotel floor next to the ice machine and talked for several more hours, our fingers interlaced. I realized inside myself, past the cells riddled with the bacterial infection that had ravaged my body, the capacity for connection was still there.

When it was time for Liam to head to the airport, he lifted me off the floor and pulled me into him. I grasped his shoulders as he whispered what it would be like to share a bed together someday, and I realized the parts I had sealed away were still there too.

We hugged goodbye and my eyes watered. There I was, with my biggest contingency to love yet, a chronic illness. But what if all my contingencies didn’t have to be the criteria for love, and life, anymore.

I sat on my couch at home as dawn approached and thought of the image I held on to the most, the image of myself in some magical future time where I could guarantee I was worthy. I took a breath and released it. My chest lightened instantly.

That was the dead weight.

The wedding was six years ago. Though the road has been uncertain and I still manage nerve pain in my arms, my health has improved in fits and starts. I started acting again a year later and made a short narrative film about my illness. It not only made me more comfortable sharing my experience, but also spurred me to raise awareness.

Privately, I’ve had practice talking about it with a few partners and it’s much easier to navigate. And if my heart reaches for drumsticks with someone new, I will remember how it felt with Liam when I said I had Lyme, as a fact, like I have two siblings or I live in LA.

When I released the film online a couple years later, I emailed Liam the link. He thanked me for sharing and said he was impressed with my openness. My eyes watered again. Because only after that night, did I finally begin the long overdue work to become open.

Open to being honest about who I am and how I got here, to learning I am far more than my body or resume, and to seeing I have a lot to offer, and in fact, always have.

Open to holding a new image in my mind. Of me sitting under white lights, knowing the magical time is now and the only guarantee I can make is to love myself, and allow myself love with another, contingent on nothing.

That is my one hundred percent.



Tracy Mulholland
P.S. I Love You

Actor, Producer, Writer, Organic Cacao lover. Gloria on For All Mankind on Apple TV+. Instagram: @tracymulholland