Vermont Conversation: A Couple’s Story Between Romance and Chronic Illness

A new audiobook from Vermonters Alex Belth and Emily Shapiro features the couple’s candid conversations about love, sex, romance and living with a chronic illness. Photo by John D. Moyers

The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens making a difference. Listen below and subscribe on Apple podcast, Google Podcasts Where Spotify to hear more.

When Alex Belth went on a first date with Emily Shapiro, he was smitten. He had finally met the woman of his dreams and he imagined a life together filled with romance and children. They married in 2007, five years after that date.

Belth, now 50, and Shapiro, 49, remain deeply in love. But their lives have been very different from what they had first imagined. Shapiro has a chronic illness and Belth served as his caregiver. At the age of 22, Shapiro developed Crohn’s disease, an incurable autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system. Shortly after their wedding, she was diagnosed with chronic migraines and spatial management disorder in which her eyes don’t work with each other.

Caring for loved ones with chronic illnesses has become a new emergency during the Covid-19 pandemic. Of the roughly 80 million Americans — and more than 111,000 Vermonters — who have been infected with Covid-19, it is estimated 10% to 30% of them will likely experience long-term chronic symptoms known as long Covid. Many people with the disease face frustrating barriers to obtaining effective care. Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said during the Vermont Conversation in December that he anticipated “a long-lasting Covid pandemic.”

Instead of enduring their health issues in silence, Belth and Shapiro chose to live their lives out loud — literally. Belth, editor of Esquire magazine, and Shapiro, a former ER nurse who now practices energy healing, have released a new Audible Original audiobook, “Here I Am: Anatomy of a Marriage.” It consists of their candid conversations about love, sex, romance, and living with a chronic illness. They recorded the book at their home in Bristol, where they moved in April 2020 after years in New York.

“A lot of these things aren’t discussed so easily,” Shapiro said. “If someone else can feel a little better about themselves identifying with these universal themes, that’s powerful for me.”

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